Syria orders U.S. school, center closed

By Albert Aji, DAMASCUS, AP

Syria — The Syrian government ordered Tuesday 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. Ministers of education and culture were instructed to implement the move, said the agency, SANA.

The decision comes two days after Syria said U.S. troops in four helicopters attacked a building inside Syria and 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.

SANA’s report did not say when the school and the center would be closed but said the closures would continue until “further notice.”

There is a small American community in the Syrian capital and one American school and a cultural center. The center is linked to the embassy and the “American School” is located in Damascus’ central upscale Maliki neighborhood.

The Syrian Cabinet also condemned the U.S. raid, describing it on Tuesday 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.

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.