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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Syria protests against US strike
US soldier in Iraq (generic)
The US is still searching for Saddam Hussein
Syria says it has protested to the US Government over an American military strike thought to have been aimed at Saddam Hussein.

The comment, made in the official Syrian Arab News Agency on Wednesday - nearly a week after the event occurred - was the first from Damascus.

The Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the US ambassador to Damascus, Theodore Kattouf, to protest and demand the return of five Syrian soldiers wounded in the incident.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed on Tuesday that the US was treating five Syrian border guards.

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

Syria said it had demanded the US hand over "the wounded soldiers to continue their treatment at a Syrian hospital to avoid any misunderstanding that might lead to an escalation that both sides do not desire".

It added that it was still waiting for the "clarification" - diplomatic parlance for an explanation - it had requested of Ambassador Kattouf.

Sana said it took place at a border post near the town of Abu Kamal, on the border with Iraq.

The target was reportedly a convoy thought to have been carrying deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and one of his sons.

No explanation

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.

"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."

US special forces, backed by AC-130 gunships and helicopters, took part in the attack on the convoy 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.

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