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U.S. raid in Syria snowballs into crisis

Atul Aneja

Amercian Embassy to shut down; Damascus wants apology

PHOTO: AFP

EXPRESSING OUTRAGE: Syrians raise anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in Damascus on Thursday.

DUBAI: The raid by American troops inside Syrian territory is likely to sour diplomatic ties between Washington and Damascus, with the U.S. Embassy in the Syrian capital announcing its decision to shut down due to security concerns.

As of now, the embassy would remain closed only on Thursday.

However, diplomatic sources said the situation remained tense and uncertain.

On Monday, the Syrian government ordered closure of the American cultural centre and a school.

It has also lodged a protest with the U.N. Secretary-General and Security Council Chairman following the commando strike.

Besides, the government has demanded a formal apology for the commando strike, which, it said, had killed eight civilians near the village of Bou Kamal. The Syrian village is main point of transit into Iraq.

U.S. claims rejected

Syria has rejected U.S. reports that Abu Ghadiyah, the top operative of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed during the attack. On Thursday, thousands of Syrians assembled at a prominent Damascus square to protest against the raid. The rally took place 1.6 km from the U.S. Embassy, where security had been visibly strengthened.

With tensions rising, the embassy remained concerned “about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens.”

The strike is expected to undermine recent efforts to improve ties between the Americans and Syria.

In Washington, Syrian diplomats were quoted as saying they were reversing their earlier decision to have a senior U.S. State Department official visit Damascus to advance Syria-Israel peace talks.

The news of the attack has strongly echoed in neighbouring Iraq, whose territory was used to mount the raid by U.S. commandos, who used military helicopters for the strike.

Analysts say the raid has reinforced the argument within the Iraqi political circles, who have been insisting that an agreement for extending the stay of American forces in Iraq beyond 2008 should be considered only if Washington accepted the condition that it would not use Iraqi soil to mount military strikes against neighbouring countries.

Among Iraq’s neighbours, the Americans have problematic ties with Syria as well as Iran.

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