Syria warns US of retaliation

The Syrian government has warned of retaliation if the US strikes again across the border from Iraq, demanding that its sovereignty be respected, reported Aljazeera.

The warning came a day after Syria said eight people were killed in a US helicopter attack in the border village of Sukariya on Sunday.

On Monday Syria's foreign minister accused the US of conducting a planned act of "criminal and terrorist aggression" in broad daylight with "blunt determination".

Walid Muallem, speaking in London, said he did not believe the killing of civilians had been a mistake and warned that "we would defend our territories" if there is a repeat of the weekend raid.

"All of them are civilian, unarmed, and they are on Syrian territory," he said, adding that among the dead were a farmer, three children and a fisherman.

Syrian state television reported that four US military helicopters were involved in the incident as families buried the dead in the village near the town of Abu Kamal.

"American soldiers ... attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths," the television report said.

Muallem said his government held the US responsible for the civilian deaths and wanted an investigation to explain why the raid had been carried out.

He also raised questions about how a pact between the US and Iraq over troop deployment next year could impact on neighbouring countries.

Following news of Sunday's attack, the Syrian government summoned the senior US and Iraqi envoys to Damascus to protest against the raid, the Syrian Arab Sana news agency said.

The US has not officially responded to Syria's accusations but an unnamed government source was quoted as saying that the target of the US raid was a smuggling ring taking foreign fighters into Iraq.

The unnamed official said Abu Ghadiya, a former lieutenant to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, had been killed in the raid.

"It was a successful operation ... He [Abu Ghadiya] is believed to be dead," the official said.

"He had knowledge of many of the so-called 'rat lines' or smuggling routes [into Iraq] ... This undoubtedly will have a debilitating effect on this foreign fighter smuggling network."

Hoda Abdel Hamid, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, said the alleged US raid seemed to be in contradiction to comments by US officials that Syria had improved its border security.

The Americans had actually praised the role of Syria over the last year, which made the alleged raid puzzling, our correspondent said.

Muallem, who was in London for talks with his British counterpart, said US officials knew "full well that we stand against al-Qaeda".

"They know full well we are trying to tighten our border with Iraq," he added.

David Milliband, the British foreign secretary, said in a joint statement after talks with Muallem that his government's long-standing position was "to regret any civilian casualties".

"Both ministers agreed that tackling al-Qaeda and groups inspired by it was a high priority and agreed to work more closely together to tackle this threat," the statement said.

Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, said on Monday that the raid targeted an area used by fighters responsible for cross-border attacks into the country.

"The attacked area was the scene of activities of terrorist groups operating from Syria against Iraq," he told the Reuters news agency.

"The latest of these groups ... killed 13 police recruits in an [Iraqi] border village. Iraq had asked Syria to hand over this group which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities."

Al-Dabbagh would not say who had carried out the attack.

"Iraq is always seeking distinguished relations with its sister Syria," he said.

"The presence of some anti-Iraq groups in Syria, which are supporting and participating in activities against Iraqis, would hinder improvement of these relations," he added.

The US and the US-backed Iraqi government have on several occasions accused Damascus of not doing enough to stop anti-US fighters, including those from al-Qaeda, crossing the border into Iraq.

The area targeted lies close to the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which in the past has been a crossing point for fighters, weapons and money used to fuel the armed Sunni opposition against Iraq's government.

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