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 News about Syria
synergy
Posted: May 9 2008, 02:59 PM


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QUOTE
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
3:19 pm EDT Fri 09 May 2008

The Bush administration accused Iran and Syria on Friday of fueling ongoing violence in Lebanon by inciting members of the radical Shiite Hezbollah movement to take up arms against the country's western-backed government.

As Hezbollah militants seized control of large parts of Beirut, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced the show-of-force, which she said was being supported by Iranian and Syrian elements, and reaffirmed the firm support of the United States for Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's shaky coalition.

"Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah and its allies are killing and injuring innocent citizens and undermining the legitimate authority of the Lebanese government and the institutions of the Lebanese state," she said. "Seeking to protect their state within a state, Hezbollah has exploited its allies and demonstrated its contempt for its fellow Lebanese."

"We will stand by the Lebanese government and the peaceful citizens of Lebanon through the crisis and provide the support they need to weather this storm," Rice said in a statement released after she spoke by phone with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and France about the situation. Rice was also trying to reach Saniora.

Rice's statement was read to reporters by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack who said the United States had evidence that Iran and Syria, in particular, were beginning to take an active role in encouraging the violence that has killed at least 14 people and wounded 20 since it began Wednesday.

"It is becoming more apparent now that the linkages that we know exist and are ongoing between Hezbollah and Syria and Iran are starting to manifest themselves in the current crisis," he said. "At the beginning we didn't see it, but we are now."

Specifically, McCormack said U.S. officials were seeing "groups and individuals that are known associates and proxies of Syria ... starting to engage. Groups that are linked to Syria and that are in Lebanon right now are taking a much more active roll in fanning the flames and violence and attacks that are destabilizing the political situation."

He would not specify which "groups and individuals" were involved, nor would he say if the United States had similar evidence of involvement by specific Iranian elements beyond Tehran's general support for Hezbollah.

The United States has grown increasingly concerned about the violence — Lebanon's worst sectarian fighting since the 1975-1990 civil war — as it has unfolded and Hezbollah has taken control of key parts of Beirut from Sunnis loyal to the Saniora's government, which has been wracked by a long-running political deadlock.

But it has thus far ruled out anything other than political and diplomatic support, praising the administration as well as the army, which has stayed out of the fighting, for their professionalism and commitment to the Lebanese people.

"The army is acting in a professional manner," McCormack said. "We believe it is an effective professional force that is working on behalf on this government and on behalf of the Lebanese people. We think that the government is exercising sound judgment."

The army has pledged to keep the peace but not take sides in the long deadlock — which pits Shiite Hezbollah and a few allies including some Christian groups, against the U.S.-backed government, which includes Christian and Sunni Muslims.
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synergy
Posted: May 22 2008, 06:06 AM


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QUOTE
JTA - The Global News Service of the Jewish People

Ron Kampeas

The renewal of peace talks between Israel and Syria is a sign of widespread concern about the rising power of Hezbollah and Iran, as well as the diminishing fortunes of the Bush administration in its twilight.

Published: 05/21/2008

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- The diminishing fortunes of the Bush administration and the resurgent fortunes of Hezbollah may be behind the surprising announcement that Syria and Israel are renewing peace talks.

The announcements Wednesday by the two countries, which said Israel and Syria would launch talks in Ankara under Turkish auspices, came despite longstanding U.S. opposition to talks with Syria.

The news garnered only tepid endorsement from the Bush administration.

"We were not surprised by it, and we do not object to it," said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman. "We hope that this is a forum to address various concerns we all have with Syria -- Syria's support of terrorism, repression of its own people."

With Bush nearing the end of his term in office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might have felt emboldened to shuck off Bush's longstanding resistance to outreach toward Syria, analysts said.

"This demonstrates that what has kept things back is the United States," said Steve Spiegel, a professor of political science at UCLA and a scholar at the Israel Policy Forum. Bush’s “leverage is not as great -- Bush has seven-and-a-half months left."

The Bush administration long has blamed Syria for not doing enough to keep insurgents from crossing its border into Iraq and for interfering in Lebanese affairs. This month, Hezbollah militiamen backed by Iran routed the U.S.-backed Lebanese army in violent clashes in Beirut, alarming officials in the Bush administration.

Syria, analysts said, also may regard Hezbollah's recent political and military gains with alarm -- notwithstanding its longstanding alliance with the Lebanese terrorist group.

Syria's alliances in Lebanon have shifted over the decades, from the Christians in the 1970s to the Palestinians to the Sunni Muslims and, over the last decade or so, to Hezbollah's Shiite plurality in the country, noted David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But Hezbollah's growing power -- including its resurgence following the 2006 summer war with Israel, its relative strength vis-a-vis the Lebanese army and its success this week in securing a veto in the Lebanese Cabinet -- threaten to undermine the balance of power between Lebanon’s minorities that has allowed Syria to control much of Lebanon.

"Syria has been a patron of Hezbollah," Makovksy said, "but there has always been an ambivalence because it doesn’t share its Islamist orientation."

That orientation -- militant Islamic extremism -- is shared by Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas, the largely Sunni Muslim terrorist group in Gaza that with Iran’s backing has obstructed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israel's defense establishment long has perceived Syria as the weak link among those groups and has advocated outreach to the Assad regime as a way of crippling Iran's influence in the region, Makovsky said.

"Unlike the Palestinian issue, where there is a sense that there is a will but not necessarily a capacity, they feel in Syria there is a central authority" to ensure the success of a peace deal, Makovsky said.

Moreover, Hezbollah’s growing strength in Lebanon, and Hamas’ persistent rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel, has made neutralizing Syrian support for those groups all the more urgent for Israel.

But the Bush administration’s reticence to embrace Syria-Israel peace talks has impeded rapprochement -- until this week, that is. The Olmert administration reportedly sought and received the green light from the Bush administration for renewing peace talks with Syria.

U.S. support for the process is key. Aside from the return of the Golan Heights from Israel, Syria would seek U.S. support and the opening of Western doors as a tradeoff for foregoing its alliances with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

A State Department official, speaking to JTA on condition of anonymity, said any Israel-Syria peace deal would require Syrian concessions in areas of concern to the United States, including tighter controls at Syria's border with Iraq and human rights reforms within Syria.

"It is our hope that discussions between Israel and Syria will cover all the relevant issues, including the Syrian government's support for terrorist groups, facilitation of the passage of foreign fighters into Iraq and intervention in Lebanon -- as well as repression inside Syria," the official said.

David Kimche, a former director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, said negotiations will take a while, likely stretching beyond Bush’s presidency.

"These negotiations are not going to end in a week or a month; it's the beginning of long negotiations," Kimche said. "The aim is to bring the Americans in. This could be the beginning of movement, not just between Israel and Syria, but between Syria and the United States."

Kimche discounted suggestions by some Israeli politicians that Wednesday’s announcement was timed to distract the Israeli public from the investigation into Olmert’s financial dealings.

Rather, he said, Israeli and Syrian negotiators reached the point in the process where they were able to make the formal announcement.

For the Israelis, that point was Olmert agreeing to a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, said Professor Eyal Zisser, a Syria expert at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“What has changed is the Israeli position,” he said. “Olmert came to the conclusion, probably some time ago, that is in his interest and in Israel’s interest to make peace with Syria, and he is willing to give something that previous prime ministers were not. According to the Syrians, he has committed himself to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights.”

That point for Syria, Makovsky said, was a readiness to consider ending its role as a conduit for arms from Iran to Hezbollah.

"You cannot have a peace deal with the Israelis and still be a conduit for weapons," Makovsky said.

Further down the line, involvement from the United States and others will be necessary, he added.

"If this is going to work, you need a lot of players to help Syria,” he said. “It's not just a local agreement.”

(JTA managing editor Uriel Heilman contributed to this report from New York.)
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synergy
Posted: May 26 2008, 06:39 AM


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QUOTE
AFP Sun May 25, 4:51 AM ET

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that indirect peace talks with Syria, a process that began more than a year ago, will be conducted in secrecy and seriously.

"We have no intention to conduct these negotiations through the media or through daily statements or by inventing slogans," Olmert said before the weekly cabinet meeting.

"We are entering negotiations with seriousness. There has been and there will be very detailed and meticulous preparation that will match our expectations from the negotiations to the reality as it is today, and not as it was 10 or two years ago."

Both Israel and Syria confirmed on Wednesday that they have launched indirect peace talks, with Turkey acting as a mediator, after an eight-year freeze.

Olmert said the process of establishing the indirect talks with Syria began in February 2007.

The Syrians want the return of all of the Golan Heights which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981, a move never recognised by the international community.

Former Israeli army chief Dan Halutz said on Sunday that Israel can manage without the strategic plateau bordering the Sea of Galilee, Israel's main source of fresh water.

"We can manage without (the Golan) as we did in the past," Halutz said on military radio. "In exchange for a real peace we must be ready to pay a real price -- if not it's all a waste to time.

"When we launch discussions with Syria, everyone knows what is on the table and we must explore all possibilities to make peace with our enemies," he said.

Israel is demanding that Damascus break off its ties with Iran and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and the Shiite Hezbollah, which Israel considers to be terrorist organisations.

Syria has said it would reject any preconditions in the talks that call on Damascus to change its relations with other countries or groups.

Polls show that public opinion in Israel opposes withdrawing from the Golan plateau, now home to some 20,000 Jewish settlers and military installations.

Halutz quit as army chief in January 2007 following criticism of his leadership during the 34-day Lebanon war against the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah movement in the summer of 2006.
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synergy
Posted: Jun 23 2008, 06:56 AM


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QUOTE
Mon 23 Jun 2008

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
#  Leading Syrian newspaper accuses U.S. of making false nuclear claims
# Government places widespread ban on coverage of nuclear inspectors' visit
# U.S. has previously alleged Syria has secret nuclear sites

(AP) A Syrian newspaper is accusing the U.S. of making false nuclear accusations against Damascus. It's expressing hope that a fact-finding trip by nuclear inspectors to Syria will not turn into a "prolonged affair."

The editorial in Syria's independent but government-guided Al-Watan newspaper Monday is the only mention so far in Syria of the nuclear inspection under way. Otherwise, Syria has placed strict bans on media reporting the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) visit to the country.

On Sunday, officials at the IAEA in Vienna confirmed the agency team had left for Syria for the visit -- which will examine U.S. allegations that Syria has secret nuclear sites.

Neither Syria nor the IAEA has confirmed any details of the visit.
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synergy
Posted: Jul 24 2008, 06:14 AM


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QUOTE
REUTERS
Reuters North American News Service

Jul 23, 2008 12:59 EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department Wednesday canceled plans to meet three Syrians making a private visit to Washington and gave no detailed explanation of its abrupt reversal.

"Representatives from the State Department will not meet with this group from Syria," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters. "Upon review of their program, and changes in schedules, ultimately, (it) did not work out."

On Monday Gallegos said Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, was prepared to meet the Syrians, whose visit is sponsored by Search for Common Ground, a nongovernmental organization that promotes conflict resolution.

On Tuesday, a U.S. official who asked not to be named said Welch might not be in Washington for the meeting, which was expected to take place Friday, and said another U.S. diplomat would take his place.

Pressed on the reasons for the abrupt cancellation of the meeting, the spokesman gave no additional explanation.

The State Department has made clear the planned meeting did not signal warmer ties or any greater U.S. interest in Israeli-Syrian peace talks that are being brokered by Turkey.

The United States accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorism, permitting foreign fighters to cross into Iraq, allowing arms to flow into Lebanon, hosting Palestinian militant groups and violating human rights.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria was recalled in February 2005, following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and not been replaced.

Syrian foreign ministry adviser Riad Daoudi, who has led the Syrian delegation in Turkish-sponsored indirect talks with Israel, was expected to visit Washington with the group but stayed in Damascus for consultations with Turkish officials.

The Bush administration has been cool to Turkish-sponsored indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, saying that it sees more promise in a U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian effort to secure a peace agreement by the end of this year.
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synergy
Posted: Aug 13 2008, 04:40 PM


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QUOTE
By ALBERT AJI, Associated Press Writer
5:27 pm EDT Wed 13 Aug 2008

Syria and Lebanon agreed Wednesday to establish full diplomatic relations for the first time, taking a step toward healing tensions that have fueled decades of turmoil in Lebanon.

Many Lebanese had long seen Damascus' refusal of ties as proof it had not given up claims that its smaller neighbor is part of Syrian territory and still aimed to dominate Lebanon. The deal is a significant symbolic victory for them, acknowledging Lebanon as an independent state.

Syria, however, only agreed to relations after its influence in Lebanon was guaranteed by the creation on Tuesday of a unity government in Beirut that gives Damascus-allied Hezbollah a strong say in Lebanese decision-making.

Still, the agreement — along with the unity government — could go a long way to easing three years of continuous crisis in Lebanon, where the power struggle between pro-Western and pro-Syrian factions brought the country to the brink of a new civil war. But the rivalry remains uneasy, and any attempt by either to dominate could spark new unrest.

Syria controlled Lebanon for nearly 30 years, after sending its army in as peacekeepers during the 1975-90 civil war. Its direct hold was broken in 2005, when anger over the slaying of ex-Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri — blamed by many on Damascus — forced the troops to leave.

Even after the withdrawal, anti-Syria Lebanese accused Damascus of trying to maintain its influence, saying it was egging Hezbollah to topple the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. They also accused Syria of being behind a string of assassinations of anti-Syria figures since 2005 to intimidate Beirut and destabilize the country.

Syria denies any role in the Hariri killing or the other attacks.

The decision to open embassies in each another's capitals came during a landmark visit to Syria by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, the first such visit by a Lebanese head of state since the Syrian troop withdrawal.

Suleiman and his Syrian counterpart, President Bashar Assad, decided Wednesday "to establish diplomatic relations ... on the level of embassies in accordance with the United Nations charter and international laws," said Assad's adviser, Buthaina Shaaban.

No date was given for opening the embassies.

The United States, which backs Saniora, welcomed the decision but pushed for Syria to stay out of Lebanese affairs.

"We have long stood for the normalization of relations between Syria and Lebanon on the basis of equality and respect for Lebanese sovereignty. One of the steps that has long been required is the establishment of a proper embassy for Syria in Lebanon and vice versa," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

"Now, if the Syrians will go ahead and demarcate the border between Lebanon and Syria, and respect Lebanon's sovereignty in other ways, then this will have proved to be a very good step," she added.

Many Lebanese lawmakers also have called for the border to be formally demarcated, and Syria's official news agency, SANA, said Suleiman and Assad discussed that issue.

The new progress comes after Lebanon appeared about to break into civil war in May, when Hezbollah fighters battled with Saniora supporters and seized parts of Beirut.

After the display of Hezbollah's power, the factions worked out a peace deal. They agreed to elect then-army chief Suleiman as president — a post left empty for months — and to form a unity government that gives Hezbollah and its allies enough Cabinet seats to veto major decisions.

Lebanon's parliament approved the new government Tuesday.

Assad had first raised the idea of establishing ties to Suleiman when they met in Paris last month on the sidelines of a Euro-Mediterranean summit. Assad told Suleiman the step was possible once a unity government was confirmed.

State-run Syrian newspapers welcomed Suleiman's visit, saying it would put Syrian-Lebanese relations back on track.

The newspaper Tishrin said in an editorial that the visit would "lay the foundations for a new phase of brotherly relations."

"Welcome President Michel Suleiman. Welcome Lebanon," said a headline in another newspaper, al-Thawra.

___

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this report
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synergy
Posted: Sep 27 2008, 04:21 AM


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QUOTE
By ALBERT AJI, Associated Press Writer
4:31 am EDT Sat 27 Sep 2008

A car packed with explosives detonated on a crowded residential street Saturday, killing 17 people and wounding more than a dozen others, state-run television reported.

The car packed with 440 pounds of explosives when it blew up on Mahlak Street, shattering apartment building and car windows and twisting the roof of one car, according to footage aired on Syrian TV.

Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majid called the bombing a "terrorist act" and said all of the victims were civilians. He declined to say who was behind the blast.

"We cannot accuse any party. There are ongoing investigations that will lead us to those who carried it out," Abdul-Majid told state TV.

The 8:45 a.m. explosion occurred in a southern neighborhood of the capital near the junction to the city's international airport, at an intersection leading to Saydah Zeinab, a holy shrine for Shiite Muslims that is frequently visited by Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims about five miles away.

An intelligence building is also located in the area, but cars are not normally allowed to park nearby and it was not clear how close the bombing was to the building.

Al-Manar, a satellite TV station allied with Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah, reported that witnesses said more than 14 people were injured including children.

Such bombings are rare in Syria, a tightly controlled country where the regime of President Bashar Assad uses heavy-handed tactics to crack down against dissent and instability.

But over the last year, the country has witnessed two major assassinations. Several explosions blamed on Sunni Muslim militants opposed to Syria's secular government have also taken place over the last few years.

Saturday's bombing was by far the largest and tested weaknesses of the government's traditionally tight security grip.

The last major explosion to strike Damascus was in February when a car bomb killed Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world's most wanted and elusive terrorists. The former Hezbollah security chief was suspected of masterminding attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon and brutal kidnappings of Westerners.

Hezbollah and its top ally, Iran, blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel denied any involvement.
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synergy
Posted: Sep 27 2008, 07:48 AM


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QUOTE
Mother Jones blog

Posted by Laura Rozen on 09/25/08

At a closed door meeting in Vienna today, UN International Atomic Energy Agency director general Mohamed ElBaradei revealed that the reason the group's investigation into whether Syria was pursuing a nuclear program has been delayed is that its main Syrian contact has turned up assassinated.

  "The reason that Syria has been late in providing additional information (is) that our interlocutor has been assassinated in Syria," ElBaradei told a closed-door session of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board. A recording of his remarks was obtained by AFP.

ElBaradei apparently did not provide any details on the circumstances of the murder of the group's liaison, nor on his identity. But the AFP cites various Arab media reports noting the assassination of Brig. Gen. Mohammed Sleiman (or Mohamed Suleiman) in the northern port town of Tartus in early August, describing him as a military advisor to Syrian president Bashar al Assad and Syria's liaison to Hezbollah. The LAT says intelligence experts have long suspected Suleiman was in charge of Syria's alleged nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

ElBaradei has apparently been pushed by some dozen IAEA members, including the US, to complete his report on the Syria investigation by November. He insisted to the closed door meeting today that he was not being evasive.

  "We have not provided a report and we will provide a report as and when we have enough facts assessment to provide a report," he said. "Our decision on the report will be based, not on politics, but on when we are ready with assessment and facting. ...I'm just telling you how difficult, how complex the situation has become, particularly after the evidence has been eliminated and if we were not to find nuclear material."

"We are in a very awkward situation, because the corpse has gone, and we are now at a stage when we have to reconstruct a facility that is not there," ElBaradei concluded, referring apparently not to the corpse of the group's Syrian liaison, but the corpse of the building struck last September by the Israeli Air Force, in a hush-hush operation dubbed Operation Orchard.

It's not hard to understand why ElBaradei, who has been a target of US hardliners' wrath for his insistence that the absence of evidence does not necessarily prove that various rogue regimes are hiding banned weapons programs, recently announced that he plans to retire when his IAEA term is up in November.
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synergy
Posted: Sep 29 2008, 09:06 AM


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QUOTE
Reuters Mon Sep 29, 5:21 AM ET

An Islamist suicide bomber was responsible for a car bomb on Saturday that killed 17 people in Syria, the state news agency reported on Monday.

The SANA news agency said the vehicle had entered Syria from a neighboring Arab country on Sept 26. It did not say which country. Syria's Arab neighbors are Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.

"Investigations showed that a terrorist was driving the car and blew himself up and the car. Confirmation of his identity is underway via a DNA examination of the remains of his corpse," SANA said.

The bomber was linked to an Islamist group, members of which had previously been detained, SANA added. There have been no claims of responsibility for the attack.

The bomb, whose victims were civilians, exploded near a security complex and at an intersection leading to the Sit Zeinab shrine -- a place of pilgrimage for Shi'ite Muslims.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this month said he was worried about foreign-backed "extremists forces" in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. He called for a solution to what he said was the rising threat of Islamist militants based in the Lebanese city.

Assad said there were countries who were supporting the militants but he did not identify them.

A car bomb blast ripped through a bus carrying soldiers in Tripoli on Monday, killing at least five people and wounding 28.

The blast in Damascus was the third major security incident this year in Syria, following the assassination of the military commander of Lebanese group Hezbollah in February and the shooting dead of a senior military aide to Syria's president in August.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Matthew Jones)
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synergy
Posted: Oct 18 2008, 05:29 AM


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QUOTE
Middle East News

Oct 17, 2008

Cairo - Washington would 'never permit Syria to intervene militarily in Lebanon,' US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview to Al-Arabiya TV broadcast Friday.

'A clear message has been delivered to Damascus stating that Washington will not tolerate a Syrian military intervention in Lebanon.' Rice said.

Recent military attacks in Tripoli and Damascus should not be used as a justification for Syrian military intervention in Lebanon, she said.

By end-September Syria deployed thousands of soldiers along its border with Lebanon. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said militants in northern Lebanon were targeting Syria, according to media reports.

Rice said that she and Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed al-Muallem had discussed issues related to border demarcation and control with Lebanon

'Syria should clarify to us on which side it stands,' she said in the interview.

The US warning comes a few days after the foreign ministers of Syria and Lebanon signed a document formalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries, for the first time since they became independent 60 years ago. The US has been cautious about the start-up of diplomatic ties.

Following the 2005 car bomb assassination of Lebanon's former premier Rafiq al-Hariri, Damascus was forced under US-led international pressure to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, after nearly three decades of their presence.

- DPA (Deutsche Presse-Agentur)
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synergy
Posted: Oct 26 2008, 06:17 PM


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QUOTE
Sun Oct 26, 2:07 pm ET

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria said on Sunday unidentified helicopters attacked a Syrian border point with Iraq, causing casualties.

The official Syrian news agency SANA did not identify the helicopters but said the attack took place in the Bou Kamal border area, in eastern Syria.

Residents said the attack targeted a house in the area in which a man and his four sons and two nearby workers were killed.
QUOTE
By Marwan Makdessi Marwan Makdessi
6:02 pm EDT Sun 26 Oct 2008

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – U.S. military helicopters attacked a farm in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border on Sunday, killing eight civilians, including five members of the same family, Syria said.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Damascus to protest over raid, Syria's state news agency SANA reported after state television said U.S. soldiers stormed a building in the area during the raid.

"Syria condemns this aggressive act and holds American forces responsible for this aggression and all of its repercussions," SANA said, quoting a government official. The Iraqi charge d'affaires had also been summoned.

SANA said four U.S. helicopters had taken part in the raid on a civilian building under construction in the Bou Kamal border area, in eastern Syria. Bou Kamal is the main crossing point into Iraq from Syria.

Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Hughes, spokesman for U.S. forces in western Iraq, said the U.S. division that operates on the Iraqi side of the border was not involved in the incident.

A Pentagon spokesman in Washington said he had no immediate information on the reported strike but would check further. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to comment on reports of the attack, as did the CIA.

The United States and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government blame Syria for not doing enough to stop anti-U.S. rebels, including al Qaeda fighters, from infiltrating over the border.

Witnesses said the attack in Mashahdeh village, 7 km (4 miles) from the Iraqi border and 2 km from Bou Kamal, took place at 5 p.m. (10:00 a.m. EDT).

"The helicopters carried out an attack on a civilian building under construction and opened fire on workers inside the building, including the wife of the building guard, leading to the (killing) of eight civilians," SANA said.

It said the dead included a man and his four children, and a married couple. They were all Syrian. Earlier, residents said the house belonging to the family was completely destroyed.

SANA said the helicopters then departed, heading for Iraq, adding that the target was al-Sukkari farm near the border.

Syria called on the Iraqi government to carry out an immediate inquiry into the attack and to ensure that Iraq was not used for "aggression against Syria," SANA said.

Farhan al-Mahalawi, mayor of the Iraqi border town of Qaim, told Reuters that U.S. helicopters had struck a village on the Syrian side of the border. He said the village had been surrounded by Syrian troops.

An Iraqi security source in Baghdad confirmed that eight people were killed.

(Additional reporting by Peter Graff in Baghdad and Ammar al-Alwani in Ramadi, Iraq; Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Perry; Editing by Jon Boyle)
QUOTE
By ALBERT AJI, Associated Press Writer Albert Aji, Associated Press Writer
7:04 pm EDT Sun 26 Oct 2008

DAMASCUS, Syria – U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as "serious aggression."

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military's reach.

"We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. 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.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information,

Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the charges d'affaires of the United States and Iraq to protest against the strike.

"Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria," the government statement said.

The area targeted 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.

Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Farhan al-Mahalawi, mayor of Qaim.

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a "different story."

"The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side," Kelly said. "We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement."

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

"There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years," Kelly said.

The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.

He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the "rat lines" in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.

"The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria," the official said.

The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.

The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. 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.

Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. 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.

Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.

Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.

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.

Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. 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.

The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.

_____

Associated Press reporter Pamela Hess in Washington and Sam F. Ghattas in Beirut contributed to this report.
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synergy
Posted: Oct 27 2008, 04:52 AM


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More on Syria Raid posted by Juan Cole [Informed Comment] Monday, October 27, 2008
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synergy
Posted: Oct 27 2008, 10:08 AM


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QUOTE
The New York Times

October 28, 2008
Syria and Iran Blame U.S. in Blast on Iraq Border
By KATHERINE ZOEPF

BAGHDAD — Iran joined Syria on Monday in condemning what they described as an attack by four United States helicopters on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq that they said killed eight people.

The United States confirmed that a Special Operations mission took place in the area on Sunday, but a senior military official gave no more details for now.

The United States is trying to negotiate a strategic agreement with Iraq that would allow American troops to remain in the country and carry out military operations. The pact faces strenuous opposition from neighboring countries, especially Syria and Iran, because of concerns that the United States might use Iraqi territory to carry out attacks on them.

Syria’s state-run news channel reported that United States helicopters on Sunday attacked an area within Syria near the town of Abu Kamal. The official news agency, SANA, cited an anonymous official as saying that four American helicopters had “launched aggression on a civilian building under construction,” killing eight people, giving the details of those it said were killed, and that the Syrian deputy foreign minister had summoned the chargé d’affaires from the American and Iraqi Embassies in protest.

Syria also said that United States soldiers on the ground had stormed a building in the area, Reuters reported.

In Tehran, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hassan Qashqavi, condemned the attack, saying a violation of the territorial integrity of any sovereign state was unacceptable.

“Iran condemns in strongest terms any form of aggression or violation of the states’ territorial integrity which leads to the death of innocent civilians,” he told reporters, according to the official news agency IRNA.

Syria’s state-run media also intensified its criticism of the United States on Monday, with the government newspaper Tishrin accusing American forces of committing “a war crime,” Agence France-Presse said.

The Iraqi government found itself in an awkward position, at once needing to remain on friendly terms with Syria — which is a neighbor and now home to more than a million Iraqi refugees — but also wanting to bolster the United States, which has said that the border area is used by people believed to be fomenting antigovernment unrest in Iraq.

In a statement, Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government’s spokesman, tried to give something to each country. In support of the United States’ position he said, “This area was a staging ground for activities by terrorist organizations hostile to Iraq.”

In the most recent action, militants killed 13 Interior Ministry employees in a border village, he said, adding, “At the time, Iraq requested that the Syrian authorities hand over the personnel from this group which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities.”

At the same time, Mr. Dabbagh emphasized that Iraq wanted good relations with Syria. But he said that “the presence in Syria of groups that are hostile to Iraq and who contribute to terrorist activity against Iraqis hinders the progress of our relationship.”

On Sunday, the police in Anbar Province in Iraq said an explosion on the border of Iraq and Syria had killed nine construction workers and wounded 19 others.

Local witnesses said they believed that the blast was caused by American shelling, but Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Youssef, the provincial police chief in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, which borders Syria, said that could not be immediately confirmed at the time.

The police statement did not indicate on which side of the border the blast had taken place. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran and has withdrawn its ambassador to Syria.

Also late Sunday, an Iraqi lawmaker announced that the country’s oil and gas draft law had been sent on to Parliament. It had been stalled in Iraq’s cabinet since February 2007 because of disputes over control of Iraq’s oil fields, and it has gone through several revisions.

Abdul-Hadi al-Hasani, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on oil, gas and natural resources, said the latest draft of the law had been received by his committee on Thursday and was undergoing careful review before being presented to the full legislature.

“The draft still needs more discussion and the opinion of experts in this field before it really goes to the Parliament,” Mr. Hasani said in a telephone interview. “We wish to activate the law very soon, and we’re serious about it. We talked today with the parliamentary leadership and went through some points concerning the draft of the law.”

Also Sunday, the chief of the Wasit provincial council announced that he had refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with United States forces that was intended to formalize Wasit’s transfer to the control of Iraq’s own security forces. Wasit, a province that borders Iran, was due this week to become the 13th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed over to full Iraqi control.

The council chief, Muhammad Hassan Jasem, said he had rejected the memorandum because its first article gave the United States permission to continue military operations in Wasit.

Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington, Alan Cowell from Paris, Graham Bowley from New York, Mudhafer al-Husaini from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Ramadi and Wasit Province.
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synergy
Posted: Oct 27 2008, 01:27 PM


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QUOTE
By ZEINA KARAM and HUSSEIN MALLA, Associated Press Writers
2:15 pm EDT Mon 27 Oct 2008

SUKKARIYEH, Syria – Families in this village near the Iraqi border on Monday buried loved ones they said were killed in a rare U.S. attack in Syrian territory, and one of the villagers said American forces grabbed two men and took them away by helicopter.

During the funerals, angry residents shouted anti-American slogans and carried banners reading: "Down with Bush and the American enemy." Syria's foreign minister condemned the raid as "cowboy politics."

The Syrian government said four U.S. military helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown Sunday, killing eight people in the village of Sukkariyeh — about five miles inside the Syrian border.

A U.S. 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 attack is another sign that the United States is aggressively launching military raids across the borders of Afghanistan and Iraq to destroy insurgent sanctuaries. In Pakistan, U.S. missile strikes have killed at least two senior al-Qaida operatives this year and ramped up the threat to groups suspected of plotting attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan and terror strikes in the West.

A Sukkariyeh resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life, said he saw at least two men taken into custody by American forces and whisked away by helicopter. Another villager displayed amateur video footage he took with his mobile phone that shows four helicopters flying toward them as villagers point to the skies in alarm.

An Associated Press journalist saw the grainy video on Monday.

At the targeted building, about a five-minute drive off the main road, the floor was bloodstained and white tennis shoes were surrounded by blood and pieces of human flesh. A tent pitched near the site had bags of bread, pots and pans and wool blankets.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino refused to confirm, or even discuss, Sunday's attack.

Iran condemned the attack as did Russia, which has had close ties with Syria since Soviet times.

The raid also put the Baghdad government in an awkward position while negotiating a security pact with the United States. Iraqi officials said Monday they hoped the raid would not harm their relations with neighboring Syria, but the government spokesman in Baghdad noted that it happened in an area known as a terrorist haven.

"We are trying to contain the fallout from the incident," Iraqi Foreign Ministry undersecretary Labid Abbawi said. "It is regrettable and we are sorry it happened."

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, however, said the area where the raid occurred "is a theater of military operations where anti-Iraq terrorist activity takes place."

Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, described the raid as "cowboy politics." He spoke to reporters at a press conference in London and warned that if there was a repeat attak on Syria, "we would defend our territories."

The Syrian 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 wounded, including a woman among the injured.

An Associated Press journalist at the funerals in the village cemetery saw the bodies of seven men — none of them children. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained.

Sunday's attack also comes at a time when Syria appears to be making some amends with the United States. Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, Damascus has been trying in recent months to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

The raid came just days after the commander of U.S. 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 AP 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.

At the one-story family house of the deceased Dawoud al-Hamad and his sons, about 30 women dressed in black wept in a small courtyard. They all dismissed allegations that the dead men had links to al-Qaida.

"They were innocent laborers who worked from dusk to dawn," said Abdullah's wife, Rima, while sitting on the floor. She said work at the construction site started last week.

Asked about U.S. reports that an al-Qaida-linked group used the site, Siham, the widow of one of Dawoud al-Hamad's sons, Ibrahim, said: "I don't know about any of that."

"All I know is that they went to work and never came back," said the mother of seven children, the youngest of whom is an 8-month-old girl.

Some Iraqi officials warned that the U.S. military raid into Syria could be used by opponents of the security pact under negotiation with the United States.

"Now neighboring countries have a good reason to be concerned about the continued U.S. presence in Iraq," prominent Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman told the AP.

Abbawi said he did not believe the Syrian raid would affect the security negotiations but acknowledged that "some will use the incident for the argument against the agreement."

Sunday's attack comes as the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been declining. A senior U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

____

Associated Press Writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria; Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Pamela Hess in Washington contributed to this report.
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synergy
Posted: Oct 27 2008, 02:59 PM


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QUOTE
By ZEINA KARAM and HUSSEIN MALLA, Associated Press Writers
2:39 pm EDT Mon 27 Oct 2008

SUKKARIYEH, Syria – Families in this Syrian village on Monday buried relatives they said died in a U.S. helicopter attack. A U.S. counterterrorism official said American forces killed the head of a Syrian network that funneled fighters, weapons and cash into Iraq.

The raid Sunday targeted the home of Abu Ghadiyah, the nickname for the leader of a key cell of foreign fighters in Iraq, according to the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. The U.S. Treasury Department has identified him as one of four major figures in al-Qaida's Iraq wing who were living in Syria.

Also Monday, a villager said U.S. forces grabbed two men and took them away by helicopter during the cross-border raid.

During the funerals, residents shouted anti-American slogans and carried banners reading: "Down with Bush and the American enemy." Syria's foreign minister condemned the raid as "cowboy politics."

The Syrian government said four U.S. military helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown, killing eight people in Sukkariyeh — a village about five miles inside the Syrian border.

A U.S. 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 attack is another sign that the United States is aggressively launching military raids across the borders of Afghanistan and Iraq to destroy insurgent sanctuaries. In Pakistan, U.S. missile strikes have killed at least two senior al-Qaida operatives this year and ramped up the threat to groups suspected of plotting attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan and terror strikes in the West.

A Sukkariyeh resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life, said he saw at least two men taken into custody by American forces and whisked away by helicopter. Another villager displayed amateur video footage he took with his mobile phone that shows four helicopters flying toward them as villagers point to the skies in alarm.

An Associated Press journalist saw the grainy video Monday.

At the targeted building, about a five-minute drive off the main road, the floor was bloodstained and white tennis shoes were surrounded by blood and pieces of human flesh. A tent pitched near the site had bags of bread, pots and pans and wool blankets.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino refused to confirm, or even discuss, Sunday's attack.

Iran condemned the attack as did Russia, which has had close ties with Syria since Soviet times.

The raid also put the Baghdad government in an awkward position while negotiating a security pact with the United States. Iraqi officials said they hoped the raid would not harm their relations with Syria, but the government spokesman in Baghdad noted that it happened in an area known as a terrorist haven.

"We are trying to contain the fallout from the incident," Iraqi Foreign Ministry undersecretary Labid Abbawi said. "It is regrettable and we are sorry it happened."

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, however, said the area where the raid occurred "is a theater of military operations where anti-Iraq terrorist activity takes place."

Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, described the raid as "cowboy politics." He spoke to reporters in London and warned that if there was a repeat attack on Syria, "we would defend our territories."

The Syrian 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 wounded, including a woman among the injured.

An Associated Press journalist at the funerals in the village cemetery saw the bodies of seven men — none of them children. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained.

Sunday's attack came at a time when Syria appears to be making some amends with the United States. Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, Damascus has been trying in recent months to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

The raid came just days after the commander of U.S. 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 AP 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.

At the one-story family house of the deceased Dawoud al-Hamad and his sons, about 30 women dressed in black wept in a courtyard. They all dismissed allegations that the dead men had links to al-Qaida.

"They were innocent laborers who worked from dusk to dawn," said Abdullah's wife, Rima, while sitting on the floor. She said work at the construction site started last week.

Asked about U.S. reports that an al-Qaida-linked group used the site, Siham, the widow of one of Dawoud al-Hamad's sons, Ibrahim, said: "I don't know about any of that."

"All I know is that they went to work and never came back," said the mother of seven children, the youngest of whom is an 8-month-old girl.

Some Iraqi officials warned that the U.S. military raid into Syria could be used by opponents of the security pact under negotiation with the United States.

"Now neighboring countries have a good reason to be concerned about the continued U.S. presence in Iraq," Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman told the AP.

Abbawi said he did not believe the Syrian raid would affect the security negotiations but acknowledged that "some will use the incident for the argument against the agreement."

Sunday's attack comes as the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been declining. A senior U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

____

Associated Press Writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria; Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Pamela Hess in Washington contributed to this report.
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