Syria closes US institutions after fatal raid

Denies it targeted Qaeda leader

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Syria denied on Tuesday that a U.S. raid inside its territory had targeted an al-Qaeda operative, as the cabinet decided to shut down an American school and an American cultural center in Damascus, the official SANA news agency said, two days after the deadly raid.

Syria said the Sunday strike in the border village of al-Sukkari killed eight civilians while a U.S. official said the raid was believed to have killed a major al-Qaeda operative who helped smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq.

"What they are saying is just unjustified. I deny it totally," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told Reuters.

SANA said the cabinet also decided to postpone a Syrian-Iraqi bilateral committee meeting which was scheduled for Nov. 12- Nov. 13 in Baghdad.

Moualem has characterized the attack as a "terrorist aggression" and said if repeated, Syria would defend itself. He has called for a U.S. and Iraqi investigation into the attack.

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.

An unnamed U.S. official told Reuters on Monday that the raid was aimed at Abu Ghadiya, a former lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who was killed in a U.S. air strike in 2006.

"What they are saying is not accurate," said Moualem, who is on a visit to London. "Do you imagine that a man and his three children are terrorists?" he said, referring to one of the people Syria said was killed in the raid.

He said the people killed 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.