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Damascus shuts US school and cultural centre after raid

The Syrian cabinet reportedly ordered the institutions closed in reprisal for a US raid on a village near the Iraqi border Sunday which Damascus says killed eight civilians. It also formally protested to the UN Security Council.

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Syria on Tuesday protested to the UN Security Council over what it branded a barbarous US helicopter raid on a village near the Iraqi border and decided to close two American institutions in Damascus.

The government also indicated Sunday's deadly raid, launched from Iraq, could have repercussions on ties with Baghdad by postponing a November 12-13 meeting of the Syrian-Iraqi high commission.

Baghdad initially appeared to condone the raid by US troops as aimed against insurgents who infiltrate Iraq, before joining in condemnation of the assault on Tuesday.

In a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Syria protested "this aggressive act and expects the UN Security Council and member countries to assume their responsibility by preventing a repetition of this dangerous violation."

It called for the Security Council "to hold the aggressor responsible for the deaths of the innocent Syrian nationals," state news agency SANA reported, quoting the letter.

In New York, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said the letters asked Ban and the Security Council "to assume their responsibility" to prevent any repeat of "such aggressive and terrorist acts against a sovereign member of the United Nations."

"It is up to the president of the security council (Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui) in consultations with the members to decide on the steps that should be taken," he told reporters.

Jaafari said Damascus was "studying taking further steps at many levels" and added that he was awaiting further instructions from his government.

In addition to the protest, the Syrian cabinet also decided to close the US cultural centre and the American school in Damascus.

Damascus has said eight civilians were killed in the assault, including children, in the first confirmed US military action of its kind inside Syrian territory.

The ministers condemned the raid, which a US official said targeted foreign fighters who infiltrate Iraq, as a "barbarous crime which amounts to the peak of state terrorism as practised by the US administration."

It was a "violation of the UN Charter and international law," a statement charged.

Meanwhile, the ruling Baath party's number two, Mohammed Saeed Bkheitan, said the raid amounted to "an act of piracy" against a farm inhabited by families and labourers.

In Baghdad, the government slammed the assault, which an unnamed official in Washington said was believed to have killed Abu Ghadiya, "one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators in the region."

"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," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

"We call upon American forces not to repeat such activities and Baghdad has launched an investigation into the strike."

On Monday, Dabbagh said the raid targeted a border area used by insurgents to launch attacks on Iraq.

Iraq's parliament said it regretted that "the operation took place at a time when relations between Iraq and its neighbourhours are 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.

China condemned the raid, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu saying Beijing opposes "any deed that harms other countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity."

France expressed "severe concern" and called for "restraint," while the Egyptian foreign ministry called the US operation a "serious violation of Syria's sovereignty."

The UAE foreign ministry expressed "its deep concern over the implications on regional peace of this act, because (the raid) constitutes a violation of international law and the sovereignty of sister Syria."

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has said four US helicopters crossed the border, with two landing at Al-Sukkiraya village close to the Iraqi town of Al-Qaim, a stronghold of Al-Qaeda and other insurgents.

Soldiers emerged after the helicopters landed and shot at civilians working on farms, including a father and his three children and a fisherman, he said.
  

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