Syria brands US raid ‘a war crime’

SYRIA denied yesterday that a US raid inside its territory had targeted an al-Qaida operative, as alleged by a US official.

“What they are saying is unjustified. I deny it totally,” Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem said.

An anonymous US official said the raid by US forces inside Syria on Sunday was believed to have killed a key al-Qaida operative who helped smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq.

The US refused officially to confirm or deny US involvement in the raid, in which residents and Syrian officials say US troops landed by helicopter and killed eight civilians.

The Syrian cabinet decided yesterday to shut a US school and a cultural centre in Damascus, the SANA news agency said.

The US official said on Monday that the raid was aimed at Abu Ghadiya, a former lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in a US air strike in 2006.

“What they are saying is not accurate,” said al-Moualem. “Do you imagine a man with his three children are terrorists?” he said, referring to one of the people Syria said was killed in the raid. He said the people killed were innocent civilians and the attack was a “terrorist act”.

“This is a war crime attempt against Syria,” he said. Syria has said it will ask the US and Iraq for an investigation into the raid.

Asked if Syria planned further diplomatic steps, al-Moualem said: “We are awaiting their response. According to what we will receive, we will decide.”

Syria says four helicopters attacked the al-Sukkari farm in the village of Sukkiraya in eastern Syria, close to the Iraqi border and US soldiers stormed a building there.

The Bush administration accuses Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of al-Qaida fighters and insurgents into Iraq.

Iraq’s government denounced the US action yesterday in an unusual rebuke of Washington.


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