The Syrian government Tuesday ordered an American school and a U.S. cultural center in Damascus closed in response to a deadly U.S. attack on a village near the Iraq border, the state-run news agency said.
The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Naji Otari, who instructed ministers of education and culture to implement the move, SANA reported.
It comes two days after Syria said U.S. troops ferried by helicopters attacked a building inside Syria near the border with Iraq and killed eight people. U.S. officials said the raid killed a top operative of al-Qaida in Iraq who intelligence suggested was about to conduct an attack in Iraq.
Few Americans in Damascus
SANA's report didn't say when the school and the center would be closed but that the closures would continue until "further notice."
Outside the Damascus Community School, known popularly as the "American School," in the central upscale Maliki neighborhood, everything seemed as usual. Students were leaving for home shortly before sunset Tuesday and drivers waited outside the building to pick up the foreign, mostly Arab pupils.
Several students and a foreign teacher said they were not aware of the closure orders and declined to comment further. There was no sign of extraordinary security measures around the school. Three Syrian policemen stood guard near the gate, as they do every day.
Monana Sabban, mother of a first-grader at the school, told The Associated Press over the phone that the students were only told the school staff would meet later Tuesday and inform parents by telephone of any new developments.
The school and the cultural center, which is linked to the U.S. embassy, cater to the small American community in the Syrian capital and other foreign residents.
At the session Tuesday, the Syrian Cabinet condemned the U.S. raid, describing it as a "barbaric" act.
"This brutal crime represents a climax of state terrorism exercised by the U.S. administration," said a Cabinet statement. It accused the United States of violating the U.N. charter, international law and international legitimacy, according to SANA.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Tuesday that he had heard reports about the order to close the American school and cultural center, but he declined to comment further because the U.S. had not been officially notified by the Syrian government about the action.
Wood said Syria has taken "steps in the right direction" about stopping foreign fighters from moving into Iraq, but there is more they must do, including better screening of people coming into the Damascus airport and better patrolling of borders.
"The Syrians know what they need to do. We want to see those things happen," Wood said.
'Act of aggression'
Also Tuesday, Syria demanded the U.N. Security Council take action against the U.S. over the attack. In a letter to the U.N. secretary general and the Security Council, Syria asked the attack be condemned and Washington held responsible, SANA reported.
"Syria ... as it draws attention to this blatant act of aggression, expects the Security Council and United Nations members to shoulder their responsibilities to prevent such a dangerous violation in the future and hold the aggressor responsible," said the letter, carried by SANA.
In another move reflecting Syria's revolt at the U.S. raid and apparently also at Baghdad's lack of a stronger response to it, the Syrian government Tuesday postponed a meeting of the joint Iraqi-Syrian Supreme Committee that was scheduled to convene in Baghdad on Nov. 12.
Iraq has said it doesn't approve of the raid into Syria even if the U.S. claims such operations were legitimate. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq doesn't want its territory used for attacks in neighboring nations, but also urged Syria to crack down on "organizations" operating on its territory that have the intention of harming Iraq.
A U.S. military official said the target was a network that smuggles fighters and weapons into Iraq.
The Syrian letter to U.N. said also that the Iraqi government should investigate the attack and "shoulder responsibility to prevent use of its territories as a base for aggression."
Washington has no ambassador in Syria but is represented by a charge d'affaires.
U.S.-Syrian relations plummeted after the February 2005 assassination in neighboring Lebanon of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which many blamed Damascus.
Washington pulled out its ambassador to Damascus and has since clamped a diplomatic boycott on the country, accusing it of destabilizing Lebanon, sending insurgents to Iraq and supporting militant anti-Israel groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
Syria, which has for years been on a State Department list of nations that support terror, denies involvement in Hariri's assassination and calls the groups it supports legitimate resistance movements.