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Last Updated:  Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
Syria urges 'end to occupation'
Palestinians and Syrians protest war on Iraq at a Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus
Iraq and Israel - two issues that divide Syria and the United States
Syria has called for an end to the "occupation" of its neighbour, Iraq, in its first official response to the fall of Baghdad.

But Damascus did not respond to accusations on Wednesday from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that it was helping members of Saddam Hussein's regime to escape.

The US administration kept up the pressure on Syria on Thursday, with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz saying it was "shipping killers into Iraq to try to kill Americans".

The US has repeatedly accused Syria of the "hostile act" of supplying Iraq with night vision goggles and other military equipment, fuelling already fraught tensions between the two nations.

Syria denied it was supplying any such equipment.

'Dangerous'

In a foreign ministry statement, Syria said: "In these dangerous circumstances, Syria calls on the international community to make every effort to put an end to the occupation."

The Iraqi people should be allowed "to freely choose their government without foreign interference", it said.

But Damascus said nothing about Mr Rumsfeld's assertions that he had seen "scraps of intelligence saying that Syria has been co-operative in facilitating the move of the people out of Iraq and into Syria".

Syria's ruling party is a rival wing of the Baath party that seems now to have lost its grip in Iraq.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia are also reported to have urged the US administration to allow the Iraqi people to choose their own government.

Ties between Syria and the United States have long been strained by US support for Israel and Syria's backing of the Lebanese group Hezbollah and radical Palestinian groups, which Washington considers "terrorist".




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