Image: Syrians demonstrate in Damascus
Joseph Barrak  /  AFP - Getty Images
Thousands of Syrians protest in Damascus on Thursday following a deadly U.S. raid near the Iraqi border on Oct. 26. Many waved Syrian flags while some carried banners reading "No to American terrorism".
updated 10/30/2008 5:31:41 PM ET 2008-10-30T21:31:41

Tens of thousands crowded a Damascus square in a government-orchestrated rally Thursday to denounce a deadly U.S. raid on Syrian territory near Iraq and send a loud message to America: Leave us alone!

A private Syrian television station also reported the government was reducing the number of soldiers along the Iraqi border, calling it a move to reduce security cooperation with the U.S. in the wake of the attack. It showed footage of troops dismantling positions and leaving the area.

The Syrian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Syria has threatened to end border security cooperation with the United States and Iraq in reaction to Sunday's attack. Earlier Thursday, a ranking official challenged Washington to prove that U.S. helicopters targeted a top al-Qaida militant in the raid that Syria says killed eight civilians.

But an Iraqi government official said Syria had sent additional troops to the border region after Sunday's raid and it was those troops that withdrew Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

The demonstration in Damascus was held a mile from the U.S. Embassy, which shut down for the day over security concerns. But the flag-waving crowd dispersed peacefully after two hours of chanting anti-American slogans.

Hundreds of Syrian riot police guarded the embassy, and demonstrators made no attempt to head for the U.S. compound.

'Leave us alone'
Ahmad Deeb, a 30-year-old civil servant, who joined the crowd at Youssef al-Azmi Square, said he wanted to condemn the U.S. "attack against Syria's sovereignty" and tell President Bush there had been "enough criminal acts" by the U.S.

"Leave us alone," Deeb said. "The world will be better next week because whoever is going to be elected as president will be better than Bush."

Protesters carried pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and held banners reading "America the sponsor of destruction and wars" and "We will not submit to terrorism." Another banner criticized Iraq for letting Americans use its territory to attack Syria.

The Syrian government has demanded Washington apologize for the strike in the Abu Kamal border community.

Following Sunday's attack, Damascus ordered the closure of an American school in Damascus and the U.S. cultural center linked to the embassy.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called his Syrian counterpart late Wednesday to express Iraq's rejection of the attack and stress his government's keenness to avoid any political escalation that would damage relations, the Iraqi ministry said.

Washington has not formally acknowledged the raid. But U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said the target was Badran Turki al-Mazidih, a top al-Qaida in Iraq figure who operated a network of smuggling fighters into the war torn country.

Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, and in recent months Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

But American accusations that Syria isn't doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from crossing its borders into Iraq remains a sore point in relations. Syria says it is doing all it can to safeguard its long, porous border.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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