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Thousands in Damascus protest US air raid

Video by Damien Coquet and Oliver Farry

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-12-09

The US embassy shut down as thousands of people marched in protest of an alleged Oct. 26 US raid on a border village that Syrian sources say killed eight civilians. American sources have so far declined to comment officially.

The US embassy in Syria shut its doors on Thursday as thousands marched through Damascus to protest at a deadly American raid on a village near the Iraqi border that Syria branded a barbaric act.
   
Security was boosted around the area housing the US embassy, which decided to close because of the potential threat of violence, although demonstrators stayed away from the mission.
   
"Colonialists, listen, the people of Syria will never be brought to their knees," cried youths as they massed in the city centre, waving Syrian flags and pictures of President Bashar al-Assad.
   
Demonstrators, including civil servants and students, waved Syrian flags and banners reading "No to American terrorism" and "American democracy -- the killing of civilians at Abu Kamal," the area targeted in Sunday's US raid.
   
"I want to denounce this act of American terrrorism. We are going to liberate Palestine, and Syria will liberate its occupied land," said a Palestinian woman named Shaimaa.
   
The protest wound down after several hours with no reports of violence, with security tight in the Abu Rumaneh area where the US embassy as well as the Saudi and Iraqi missions are located.
   
The US embassy announced on its website it had closed Thursday because of a possible demonstration and warned American citizens to stay away from the area.
   
It said the decision was made "due to past demonstrations which resulted in violence and significant damage to US facilities and other embassies," adding that the American school would also be temporarily shut.
   
In September 2006, a failed attack on the US embassy left four attackers and one Syrian security agent dead.
   
Damascus says eight civilians, including children, were killed in a helicopter assault on Sunday launched by US troops from Iraq on a Syrian village, which has provoked condemnation from a number of foreign governments.
   
A US official in Washington has said the operation targeted a top militant who smuggled arms and fighters into Iraq but officially the State Department and Pentagon have declined to comment.
   
On Tuesday, Syria protested to the UN Security Council over what it branded a barbaric action, with the official press calling it a "cold-blooded war crime".
   
US commanders say Syria is the main transit point for foreign jihadists crossing into Iraq and have blamed Damascus for turning a blind eye to the problem.
   
However, Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said a controversial security pact being negotiated Washington would prevent the US military from launching attacks on Iraq's neighbours.
   
"There is a very clear article in the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) draft that says the US cannot, should not, launch any operation from Iraqi soil against other countries," Rubaie said on Wednesday.
   
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad said his government -- which has already demanded the closure of the American school and the US cultural centre -- is awaiting an explanation from Washington and Baghdad before deciding whether to take further retaliatory steps.
   
Syria and the United States have long had a rocky relationship.
   
In 2004, Washington imposed sanctions against Syria, accusing it of helping insurgents in Iraq and the Shiite Hezbollah group in Lebanon.
   
It recalled its ambassador to Damascus after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former premier Rafiq Hariri, reducing US diplomatic representation to charge d'affaires level.
   
On Thursday, North Korea -- accused by Washington of helping build a nuclear reactor in Syria -- condemned Sunday's raid as an "unpardonable, inhuman" act.
   
Parliament in neighbouring Jordan demanded that the international community take measures to stop such acts which MPs said "entrench violence and hatred" in the region.

Date created : 2008-10-30

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