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Syrian Ambassador Criticizes Suspected US Military Raid


The Syrian ambassador to the United States lashed out at the Bush administration following a deadly suspected U.S. military raid inside Syria last Sunday. Ambassador Imad Moustapha called the raid a criminal, terrorist attack against innocent civilians. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

Speaking to a conference in Washington on Thursday, Ambassador Moustapha says the assault on the Syrian village of Sukkariyah near the Iraqi border occurred when U.S. helicopters attacked a group of people building a home.

Syria has demanded that the United States and Iraq apologize, and investigate the attack, which Moustapha says killed eight civilians.

"They killed all these guys. Then two other helicopters went down and the soldiers from those helicopters moved around the bodies being sure that each single person was killed and shooting additional bullets into the bodies. It was a criminal, terrorist attack against unarmed, innocent civilians," he said.

Ambassador Moustapha says a father and four of his sons were killed. He says a husband and wife also died. Moustapha says an eighth man, a fisherman, also was killed in the raid. He says all those who died were Syrian.

The Bush administration has neither confirmed nor denied the attack, and the identities of the victims have not been independently identified.

U.S. officials, speaking anonymously, say the operation targeted the leader of a smuggling network used to send foreign fighters, weapons and money to Iraq.

The officials say U.S. commandos killed several armed men, including Abu Ghadiyah, whom they identified as a leader of the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq.

Ambassador Moustapha questioned the timing of the attack, indicating that relations between Syria and the United States have recently improved.

He pointed out that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in September with her Syrian counterpart on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

This month, U.S. Army General David Petraeus, the former top military commander in Iraq, said there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of foreign fighters coming across the Syrian border into Iraq.

In his speech to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Moustapha charged that the attack might have been launched to manipulate American voters' attitudes ahead of next week's presidential election.

"Some people within the [Bush] administration believe that it is time to reengage with Syria, while others say, 'Look, this is an election time. We need to do something to remind the people that we have a crisis in Iraq and we are fighting against al-Qaida. Let us do something, you know Rambo-style, so that we can steer emotions and ideas within the hearts and minds of the American people, so that they might reconsider their elections positions,'" he said.

The Syrian ambassador's comments came on the same day that thousands of people rallied in Damascus to protest the raid.

The crowd chanted anti-American slogans, but dispersed peacefully after several hours.

The U.S. embassy in Damascus closed for the day because of security concerns.

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