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Last Updated: Monday, 4 July, 2005, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
'Ex-Saddam guards' in Syria clash
Mount Qassioun is a popular scenic spot overlooking Damascus
A Syrian security officer has died in a shootout with an armed group that includes former bodyguards of Iraq's ex-leader Saddam Hussein, reports say.

The clash erupted early in the morning on Mount Qassioun, which overlooks Damascus, the Sana news agency reports.

Two members of the group are said to have been arrested in the fighting, in which four policemen were also hurt.

Syria has been accused by the US of backing the Iraqi rebellion and giving a safe haven to insurgency supporters.

Damascus claims it is cracking down on militancy.

According to the official Sana agency, two Syrian security personnel and a militant were killed in a gunfight along the Lebanese border on Sunday.

Last month, Syria said it killed two militants and foiled a bombing plot after a raid on a house in Damascus.

'Armed robbery'

A Syrian security official has been quoted as saying that Monday's clash took place with a "group of people wanted for terrorist crimes... some of whom were former bodyguards of Saddam Hussein".

Map of Syria
It is not known if any of those arrested had served the former Iraqi leader.

A Syrian official quoted by Sana identified one captured militant as a Jordanian citizen, Ayed al-Semadi.

Police also reportedly arrested his wife's brother, who is said to have been on the run.

Security officials are continuing their operation against the militant group, the official said.

He said the militants - who are also suspected of armed robbery - had been under surveillance for some time.

Mount Qassioun offers scenic views over Damascus and is favoured as a picnic spot by city dwellers.

US pressure

Separately, the US treasury last week froze assets belonging to two top officials in the Syrian administration, accusing them of "destabilising" the region.

Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan and intelligence chief Rustum Ghazali are alleged by Washington to have led military and spy operations in Lebanon.

Syrian troops - stationed in Lebanon for more than two decades - were forced to withdraw earlier this year amid international pressure and street protests in Beirut.

Last week, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Syria was allowing insurgents to enter Iraq for attacks on US and government targets.

Syria has denied it is aiding the Iraqi insurgents.

Washington's embassy in Damascus has meanwhile scaled down its annual celebrations for 4 July, US independence day, the AFP news agency reports.

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