VIDEO / Syria demands UN action against U.S. over raid
Syria rejects U.S. claim that helicopter strike, in which 8 people were killed, targeted al-Qaida operative.
Syria demanded on Tuesday that the United Nations Security Council take action against the U.S. over a helicopter raid on its soil on Sunday.
Syria said the helicopter strike on the village of Sukkariyeh, five miles (8 kilometers) from the border with Iraq, killed eight civilians, while a U.S. official said the raid was believed to have killed a major al Qaida operative who helped smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq.
In a letter to the UN secretary general and the Security Council, Syria asked that the attack be condemned and that Washington held responsible, Syria's official news agency SANA reported.
"Syria ..., as it draws attention to this blatant act of aggression, expects the Security Council and United Nations members to shoulder their responsibilities to prevent such a dangerous violation in the future and hold the aggressor responsible," said the letter, carried by SANA.
In another move reflecting Syria's revolt at the U.S. raid and apparently also at Baghdad's lack of a stronger response to it, the Syrian government Tuesday postponed a meeting of the joint Iraqi-Syrian Supreme Committee that was scheduled to convene in Baghdad on Nov. 12.
Iraq has said it doesn't approve of the raid into Syria even if the U.S. claims such operations were legitimate. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq doesn't want its territory used for attacks in neighboring nations, but also urged Syria to crack down on organizations operating on its territory that have the intention of harming Iraq.
The Syrian letter to the UN said also that the Iraqi government should investigate the attack and shoulder responsibility to prevent use of its territories as a base for aggression.
Washington has no ambassador in Syria but is represented by a charge d'affaires.
U.S.-Syrian relations plummeted after the February 2005 assassination in neighboring Lebanon of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which many blamed Damascus.
In wake of U.S. attack, Syria shuts down American institutions
Earlier Tuesday, the Syrian cabinet decided to shut down an American school and an American cultural center in Damascus, a move some view as a direct response to the attack.
The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting headed by Syrian Prime Minister Naji Otari who instructed ministers of education and culture to implement the move, SANA reported.
SANA's report didn't say when the school and the center would be closed but that the closures would continue until further notice.
Outside the American School in Damascus' central upscale Maliki neighborhood, everything seemed as usual on Tuesday afternoon. Students were leaving for home shortly before sunset and drivers waited outside the building to pick up the foreign, mostly Arab pupils.
Several students and a foreign teacher said they were not aware of the closure orders and declined to comment further. There was no sign of extraordinary security measures around the school. Three Syrian policemen stood guard near the gate, as they do every day.
Monana Sabban, mother of a first grader at the school, told The Associated Press over the phone that the students were only told the school staff would meet later Tuesday and inform parents by telephone of any new developments.
The school and the cultural center, which is linked to the U.S. embassy, cater to the small American community in the Syrian capital and other foreign residents.
At the session Tuesday, the Syrian cabinet condemned the U.S. raid, describing it as a barbaric act.
"This brutal crime represents a climax of state terrorism exercised by the U.S. administration," said a Cabinet statement. It accused the United States of violating the United Nations charter, international law and international legitimacy, according to SANA.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Tuesday that he had heard reports about the order to close the American school and cultural center, but he declined to comment further because the U.S. had not been officially notified by the Syrian government about the action.
Wood said Syria has taken steps in the right direction about stopping foreign fighters from moving into Iraq, but there is more they must do, including better screening of people coming into the Damascus airport and better patrolling of borders.
"The Syrians know what they need to do. We want to see those things happen," Wood said.
Syria rejects allegations U.S. strike targeted al-Qaida operative
Meanwhile Tuesday, Syria rejected the allegations that the raid had targeted an al-Qaida operative. "What they are saying is just unjustified. I deny it totally," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters.
A U.S. 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 U.S. air strike in 2006.
"What they are saying is not accurate," said Moallem, who is on a visit to London. "Do you imagine that a man with his three children are terrorists?" he said, referring to one of the civilians Syria said was killed in the raid.
He stressed that the victims of the raid were innocent civilians, and repeated his accusation that the attack was a "terrorist act" by the United States. "This is a war crime attempt by the United States against Syria," he said.
Asked if Syria planned any further diplomatic steps, Moallem said "we are awaiting their response. According to what we will receive, we will decide our options."
The Bush administration, which will leave office in January after the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4, accuses Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of al-Qaida fighters and other insurgents into Iraq.
Iraq's government denounced the U.S. action on Tuesday in an unusual rebuke of Washington.
"The Iraqi government rejects U.S. aircraft bombarding posts inside Syria," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
On Monday, Moallem denounced Iraq's initial description of the raid as targeting insurgents across the border.
Asked for his reaction to the latest Iraqi statement, Moallem said: "I think they start to see the fact(s) and (are) going in the right direction."