In wake of U.S. attack, Syria shuts down American institutions
The Syrian cabinet decided on Tuesday to shut down an American school and an American cultural center in Damascus, the Syria's official SANA news agency said, two days after a U.S. military raid in Syria. Syria said the Sunday helicopter strike on the village of Sukkariyeh, five miles (8 kilometers) from the border with Iraq, killed eight civilians while a U.S. official said the raid was believed to have killed a major al Qaida operative who helped smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq. Syria said four U.S. helicopters attacked the border region in eastern Syria. Iraq, which said the raid targeted staging grounds used by militants, denounced the air strike. France and Russia have also condemned the attack.
According to the SANA report, the Syrian cabinet also decided to postpone a Syrian-Iraqi bilateral committee meeting which was scheduled for Nov. 12- Nov. 13 in Baghdad. Moallem has characterized the attack as a "terrorist aggression" and said if repeated, Syria would defend itself. He has called for U.S. and Iraqi investigations into the attack. Meanwhile Tuesday, Syria rejected the allegations that the raid had targeted an al-Qaida operative. "What they are saying is just unjustified. I deny it totally," Moallem told reporters. A U.S. official said on Monday that the raid was aimed at Abu Ghadiya, a former lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in a U.S. air strike in 2006. "What they are saying is not accurate," said Moallem, who is on a visit to London. "Do you imagine that a man with his three children are terrorists?" he said, referring to one of the civilians Syria said was killed in the raid. He stressed that the victims of the raid were innocent civilians, and repeated his accusation that the attack was a "terrorist act" by the United States. "This is a war crime attempt by the United States against Syria," he said. Asked if Syria planned any further diplomatic steps, Moallem said "we are awaiting their response. According to what we will receive, we will decide our options." The Bush administration, which will leave office in January after the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4, accuses Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of al-Qaida fighters and other insurgents into Iraq. Iraq's government denounced the U.S. action on Tuesday in an unusual rebuke of Washington. "The Iraqi government rejects U.S. aircraft bombarding posts inside Syria," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said