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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 08:22 GMT 09:22 UK
Syrian guards 'will be returned'
US soldiers in Iraq
The US is still searching for Saddam
The United States has confirmed that it has been treating five Syrian border guards injured during a strike by the US military based in neighbouring Iraq.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has told reporters the return of the five "will happen" after officials from the two sides deal with the issue.

But he declined to say whether US forces had entered Syria during the strike nearly a week ago which was carried out by special forces backed by aircraft.

The raid was launched after intelligence reports apparently suggested that a convoy in the area was carrying ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and at least one of his sons.

There has been no official word about the incident so far from the Syrian authorities, who have been under intense US pressure since the war in Iraq to refuse to give sanctuary to Saddam Hussein or other Iraqi fugitives.

'The straight story'

Mr Rumsfeld did not explain how the Syrians came to be injured in the US attack, or whether a cross-border attack had been authorised by Washington.

Borders are not always distinct in life
US Defence Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld

"I'm not going to get into what the Syrians have done and what they haven't done," Mr Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing.

"We don't discuss the rules of engagement... Borders are, you know, not always distinct in life. And I just would rather wait and give you the straight story."

There has been widespread speculation that the attack was an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein, but Mr Rumsfeld said he had no reason to believe the former president had been killed.

US defence officials earlier said a number of people had been killed in the attack, and that 20 people in the convoy were arrested and questioned, but most were subsequently released.

The search for the deposed leader has intensified since the recent capture of a close aide, Mahmud al-Tikriti, who has told US interrogators that Saddam Hussein and his sons are still alive.

US special forces, backed by AC-130 gunships and helicopters, took part in the attack on the convoy near the western Iraqi city of Qaim, close to the Syrian border, early last Thursday.

An unmanned aircraft, or drone, was also involved in the operation.

Investigations, including DNA testing, are reported to be taking place into the identities of the victims.

The search for Saddam Hussein has been led by Task Force 20, which specialises in covert actions and works closely with American intelligence agencies.

The BBC's James Ingham
"Syrian border guards were injured in the clash"

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