Families in this village near the Iraqi border buried loved ones Monday who they said were killed when the US military launched a rare attack in Syrian territory. During the funerals, angry residents shouted anti-American slogans and carried banners reading: "Down with Bush and the American enemy."
The Syrian government said four US military helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown Sunday in Sukkariyeh about five miles inside the Syrian border.
The government statement said eight people were killed, including a man and his four children and a woman. However, local officials said seven men were killed and two other people were injured, including a woman among the injured. An Associated Press journalist at the funerals in the village's cemetery saw the bodies of seven men - none of them minors. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained.
A US military official in Washington confirmed Sunday that special forces had conducted a raid in Syria that targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq.
"We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.
The US military in Iraq said it did not have any information about the incident. But the raid came just days after the commander of US forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.
In Sukkariyeh, villager Jumaa Ahmad al-Hamad told The Associated Press he was walking Sunday when he saw four helicopters, two of which landed.
"Shooting then started ringing for more than 10 minutes," al-Hamad said Monday. After the helicopters stopped firing and left the area, he and other villagers went to the site and discovered the bodies of his uncle, Dawoud al-Hamad, and four of his uncle's sons, who he said were killed in the raid.
Iraqi officials said they hoped the raid would not harm their relations with Syria, and Iran condemned the attack.
Syria called the raid a "serious aggression," and its Foreign Ministry summoned the charges d'affaires of the United States and Iraq in protest.
Syrian parliament member Suleiman Hadad called the raid "a last-ditch hit by the defeated and desperate" Bush administration, which is trying to "restore some of its lost dignity in the region."
Government newspapers also published scathing criticisms in Monday's editions. Tishrin splashed its front pages with a headline denouncing the raid as a "US war crime," while the Al-Baath newspaper described the attack in an editorial as a "stunning, shocking and unprecedented adventure."
"Even while it's preparing itself to leave the White House, the Bush administration seems determined to demonstrate its foolishness, and this is a dangerous indication of political madness and stupid arrogance," Al-Baath said.
The attack comes at time when Syria appears to be making some amends with the United States.
Though Syria has long been viewed by the US as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.
Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.
It also comes as the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been declining. A senior US military intelligence official told the AP in July that it had been cut to an estimated 20 a month. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.
The area targeted Sunday is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.
Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to US intelligence.
Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.
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