Damascus has decried a cross-border raid into Syria as an act of "criminal and terrorist aggression" by the US. The US military, meanwhile, described the operation as an "important opportunity" to stop attacks on its forces in Iraq.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Monday accused the United States of "terrorist aggression" over a deadly weekend raid on a village near the Syria-Iraq border.
He vowed to defend Syrian territory from any further such attacks, and also voiced hopes the next US president, to be chosen in elections next week, will learn from the "mistakes" of George W. Bush.
In his first comments on Sunday's attack in the village of Al-Sukkiraya, eight kilometres (five miles) from the Iraqi border, the Syrian minister said: "We consider this criminal and terrorist aggression.
"We put the responsibility on the American government ..Killing civilians in international law means a terrorist aggression," he told a press conference in London, after talks with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
Asked if Syria would use force if the Americans mounted a similar operation again, he said: "As long as you are saying if, I tell you, if they do it again, we will defend our terrorities."
In a joint statement issued after their talks Miliband sought to downplay tensions, saying they had had "an open, useful and constructive discussion."
"In respect of reports of an incident on the Syria/Iraq border, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that it was the longstanding position of the British government to regret any civilian casualties," the statement added.
But the diplomatic strains were reflected when, a few hours before a planned joint press conference, the Foreign Office announced it had been cancelled as it would "not be appropriate."
Earlier Monday a US official in Washington said US forces crossed into Syria Sunday in a raid against foreign fighters, and but did not dispute Syrian accounts that airborne troops had assaulted a site.
The Syrian minister reiterated that account Monday, saying four American helicopters had crossed the border at 5:00 pm. Two of them landed at the village site, while the other two aircraft protected them.
Soldiers came out of the helicopters on the ground and started shooting at civilians working on farms, including a father and his three children and a fisherman, he said.
"All of them are civilians, Syrian, unarmed and they are on the Syrian territories," he told reporters.
In other comments the Syrian minister said he hopes the result of next week's US presidential election can help restore the United States' global reputation, learning the "mistakes" of the Bush era.
"I hope that the American people would elect the president who can bring good reputation for US in the world, not like this reputation we are witnessing for this administration," he said.
Date created : 2008-10-27