Monday, October 27, 2008

Eight die in US attack inside Syria

October 27, 2008

AMERICAN military helicopters attacked a farm in eastern Syria close to the border with Iraq yesterday, killing eight people, the Syrian Government said.

There was outrage in Damascus and the Foreign Ministry summoned the US and Iraqi envoys to protest about the operation.

Four American helicopters targeted a civilian building under construction, firing on the workers inside shortly before sunset, according to a government statement carried by the Syrian state news agency. The structure was at al-Sukkari farm, 8km inside the Syrian border.

They “opened fire on workers inside the building, including the wife of the building guard, leading to the (death) of eight civilians,” the statement said.

A resident of a nearby village reported that the aircraft flew along the Euphrates into the area of farms and several brick factories.

Some of the helicopters landed and troops got out of the aircraft and fired on a building, the resident told the Associated Press, adding that at least one of the dead was a construction worker. After the attack, the helicopters headed for Iraq, state media said.

While the Pentagon did not confirm the attack, a US military spokesman said that the raid targeted a network of foreign fighters based at the farm. “We are taking matters into our hands,” the unnamed US official said.

America accuses Syria of failing to do enough to stop militants, including al-Qaeda operatives, from infiltrating over the border. The Bou Kamal border area, close to the farm in eastern Syria, is the country’s main crossing point into Iraq.

Farhan al-Mahalawi, the mayor of the Iraqi border town of Qaim, said that US helicopters had struck a village on the Syrian side of the border. He said that the village had been surrounded by Syrian troops.

An Iraqi security source in Baghdad also confirmed that eight people had been killed. The Syrian Government claimed that four children were among the dead.

Suleiman Ghadban, head of the hospital in Bou Kamal, said: “The hospital received seven bodies aged between 16 and 50 and three wounded, including the mother of the (deceased) family.”

The Syrian government statement said: “Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions.

“Syria also calls on the Iraqi Government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch an immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria.”

Last week the commander of US forces in western Iraq said that US troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border.

Major-General John Kelly told reporters that Iraq’s western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight thanks to good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a “different story”.

“The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,” Major-General Kelly said. “We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement.”

The US military was helping to build a sand barrier and ditches along the border, he said, adding: “There hasn’t been much, in the way of a physical barrier along that border for years.”

Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, accused the US this year of not giving his country the equipment that it needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said that the US feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.

The US has long viewed Syria as a destabilising country in the region but in recent months Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

President Assad has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says that he wants direct talks next year.

Syria has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country that it used to dominate politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq. European, US and Arab officials have increased their visits to the country.

The reported attack comes at a particularly sensitive time, however, as Baghdad and Washington struggle to sign an agreement to allow US troops to stay in Iraq beyond this year.

Neighbouring countries, including Syria and Iran, have voiced concern that such an accord would enable the US military to attack other countries from Iraqi territory, a charge that US officials deny.

Source: The Australian


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