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Syria Puts US Embassy Under Guard as Tens of Thousands Join Protest

Troops carrying batons and shields are stationed in Damascus as crowds decry American 'terrorist' raid on border

by Haroon Siddique and agencies

 

Tens of Iraqi refugees in Syria protest against a US raid on a Syrian village at Sukkeriyah, 8 km from the Iraqi border, that killed eight people, in downtown Damascus on Wednesday Oct. 29, 2008. The protestors chanted anti-US slogans and carried Iraqi flags. Syria's deputy foreign minister said Wednesday that Damascus wants America and Iraq to apologize to Syria for a U.S. commando raid mounted from Iraq that killed eight and pledge not to repeat it again. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi) Hundreds of Syrian riot police surrounded the US embassy in Damascus today as tens of thousands of protesters gathered nearby to denounce a US raid that killed eight people near the Iraqi border.

The crowds converged on Youssef al-Azmi square, about a mile from the embassy - which was closed for the day because of security concerns.

Troops wearing helmets and carrying batons and shields took up positions around the embassy and the adjacent US residence building. Two fire engines were parked nearby.

There were no signs of violence as protesters formed circles and danced traditional dances

"America the sponsor of destruction and wars," read one banner, as protesters waved national flags and pictures of the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

"We will not submit to terrorism," read another banner.

Hussam Baayoun, a 20-year-old university student, said the US raid was a "criminal act". "We want the Americans to stop their acts of terrorism in Syria, in Iraq and the rest of the world," he said.

The Syrian government has demanded a US apology for the attack in the eastern border community, which it says left eight civilians dead. It has threatened to cut off cooperation on Iraqi border security if there are more raids on its territory.

Syrian security around the embassy is usually tight and Americans in the country are generally made to feel welcome but when the US invaded Iraq protesters attacked the embassy.

The American school has been shut for the day. The Syrian government has ordered the school to shut down - this is expected within a week - and the immediate closing of the American cultural centre linked to the embassy.

In Washington, a state department deputy spokesman, Robert Wood, said yesterday that the White House was considering how to respond to the order to shut the cultural centre and American school. He stressed that the US expected the Syrian government to "provide adequate security for the buildings". The US embassy warned its citizens in Syria to be vigilant.

There has been no formal acknowledgment of the raid from Washington, but US officials speaking on condition of anonymity have said it killed Badran Turki al-Mazidih, a top al-Qaida figure who operated a network smuggling fighters into Iraq. An Iraqi national, he also uses the name Abu Ghadiyah.

Washington lists Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism and has operated sanctions since 2004. In recent months Damascus has been trying to end years of global isolation. Assad is seen as less hardline than his father, the previous president.

US accusations that Syria is not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from crossing its borders into Iraq remain a sore point in relations. Syria says it is doing all it can to safeguard its long, porous border.

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