Iraq condemns US helicopter raid on a Syrian border village while Syria called it an 'act of terrorism'.
Syria appeals to UN over US raid
DAMASCUS // Syria protested to the UN Security Council over a deadly US helicopter raid on a village near the Iraqi border in a letter to the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, the state news agency Sana said today. "Syria draws attention to this aggressive act and expects the UN Security Council and member countries to assume their responsibility by preventing a repetition of this dangerous violation," the letter read. It called for the Security Council "to hold the aggressor responsible for the deaths of the innocent Syrian nationals". A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the raid by US forces inside Syria on Sunday was believed to have killed a major al Qa'eda operative who had helped smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq. The United States has 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. Syria denied yesterday that the raid had targeted an al Qa'eda operative."What they are saying is just unjustified. I deny it totally," said Walid al Moualem, the Syrian foreign minister. The Syrian cabinet decided yesterday to shut down a US school and a US cultural centre in Damascus, the Sana 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 Qa'eda in Iraq who was killed in a US air strike in 2006. "What they are saying is not accurate," said Mr Moualem, 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 people Syria said was killed in the raid. He said the people killed were 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." Syria has said it will ask the United States and Iraq for an investigation into the raid. Asked if Syria planned any further diplomatic steps, Mr Moualem said: "We are awaiting their response. According to what we will receive, we will decide our options." Syria says four helicopters attacked the Al Sukkari farm in the Albou Kamal area in eastern Syria, close to the Iraqi border. Soldiers emerged after the helicopters landed and shot at civilians working on farms, including a father and his three children and a fisherman, Mr Moualem said. The Bush administration, which will leave office in January after the US presidential election on Tuesday, accuses Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of al Qa'eda fighters and other insurgents into Iraq. On Monday, Mr Moualem had denounced Iraq's initial description of the raid as targeting insurgents across the border. Asked for his reaction to the latest Iraqi statement, Mr Moualem said: "I think they start to see the facts and are going in the right direction." Iraq's government denounced the US action yesterday in an unusual rebuke of Washington. "The Iraqi government rejects the US helicopter strike on Syrian territory, considering that Iraq's constitution does not allow its land to be a base for launching attacks on neighbouring countries," said Ali al Dabbagh, a government spokesman. Mr Dabbagh said the attack was against a border area used by insurgents to launch attacks against Iraq. Mr Dabbagh also urged Syria to stop groups using its territory "for training and sending terrorists for attacks on Iraq and its people". The Iraqi parliament also denounced the strike, saying it came at a time when relations between Baghdad and its neighbours were "progressing". Syria's first ambassador to Iraq in 26 years took up his post this month, marking the official end of more than two decades of icy relations. The UAE Foreign Ministry also condemned Sunday's attack. "The United Arab Emirates stresses that it is highly concerned over the consequences of this action on the regional peace since it is a violation of international legitimacy as well as the national sovereignty of the sisterly Syrian Arab Republic", the Ministry said in a statement quoted by Wam, the national news agency. A Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman voiced "Egypt's concern following the military operation carried out by American forces on Syrian territory", in a statement carried by the official Mena news agency. "Egypt considers this operation to be a serious violation of Syria's sovereignty," the foreign ministry said. Egypt called for those concerned "to refrain from any activity or measure that could destabilise the region ... and respect the principles of good neighbourliness." * Agence France-Presse