Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 17:29 pm (KSA) 14:29 pm (GMT)

Syria suspends security talks with Iraq

Thousands of Syrians marched in the streets of Damascus
Thousands of Syrians marched in the streets of Damascus

Syria severed communications with Iraq, suspended bilateral security meetings and decreased the number of its border troops, Al Arabiya TV reported on Thursday.

Thousands of people marched in the streets of Damascus on Thursday to protest at a deadly American raid on a village near the Iraqi border which Syria has branded a barbaric act.

Security was boosted around the area in central Damascus housing the U.S. embassy which was closed on Thursday ahead of the demonstration because of the potential threat of violence.

"Colonialists, listen, the people of Syria will never be brought to their knees," cried youths as they gathered in the city centre but some distance away from the U.S. mission.

"Allah, Syria, Bashar," they chanted, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

 The U.S. Embassy in Damascus remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens. 
Embassy spokesman

Demonstrators, including civil servants and students, waved Syrian flags and banners reading "No to American terrorism" and "American democracy -- the killing of civilians at Abu Kamal," the area targeted in Sunday's U.S. raid.

The protest wound down after several hours with no reports of violence.

Syria had earlier ordered an American school and cultural centre to be shut down in an apparent response to the U.S. action on Sunday.

Relations strained

Relations between Washington and Damascus are already strained by U.S. accusations that Syria is failing to stop militants, including al Qaeda fighters, from entering Iraq.

The U.S. embassy in Damascus said in a statement it will be closed on Thursday due to "increased security risk".

An embassy spokesman earlier said that Americans in Syria must be aware that "unforeseen events or circumstances may occur that could cause the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to close to the public for an unspecified period of time."

"The U.S. Embassy in Damascus remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens," he said.

The spokesman declined to comment on whether the number or status of U.S. diplomats in Syria could change.

A U.S. official has said that a smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq was believed to have been killed in the attack, which Syria said had killed eight civilians.

Diplomats said the crisis could escalate into tit-for-tat retaliation if the protest turns violent. But a source familiar with the planning for the event said it will be held away from the embassy.

"There are no plans to march on the embassy. An American flag may be set alight but the protest will be peaceful," the source said.

Syria's response

Responding to Sunday's raid, Syria decided to close an American school with 450 students and an American cultural centre in Damascus. Hundreds of U.S. nationals live in Syria.

Thousands more have dual U.S.-Syrian nationality.

The official news agency SANA said Damascus informed Washington on Wednesday of its decision to close the two facilities.

Syria also has called on the U.N. Security Council to take action to prevent a repeat of the attack in which military helicopters flew over the border and struck a farm just inside Syrian territory.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry called in foreign ambassadors for a meeting on Wednesday to explain the measures Damascus has taken against the United States, SANA said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad said Syria was waiting for an official explanation from Washington and Baghdad about "the unacceptable violation of Syrian sovereignty" before taking any more measures.

Washington recalled its ambassador to Syria following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in February 2005. The United States also has Syria on a list of states that support terrorism and Damascus has been under U.S. sanctions since 2004 over its support for militant groups.

Thousands of protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Damascus in 1998 during a demonstration against U.S.-led military strikes on Iraq.

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