DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Thousands of Syrians held a government-backed demonstration in Damascus on Thursday to protest against a U.S. military raid in the east of the country that has put a further strain on U.S.-Syrian ties.
The U.S. embassy in Damascus had closed for the day due to security concerns. Syria says the raid killed eight civilians. A U.S. official said it was believed to have killed a smuggler of foreign fighters into Iraq.
The crowd, mostly state workers and students of government schools, gathered in a central Damascus square a few kilometers (miles) from the U.S. embassy. Riot police surrounded the embassy, which was pelted with stones during a protest in 1998 over U.S.-led airstrikes on Iraq.
Some demonstrators carried banners denouncing the United States and Israel and praising Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “We sacrifice our blood for you, Bashar. Down with America,” some members of the crowd shouted.
The raid undermined U.S.-Syrian ties which were already strained by other disputes, including U.S. accusations that Damascus has not stopped foreign fighters crossing into Iraq.
Syria, listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by Washington, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2004 for supporting Lebanese political and guerrilla movement Hezbollah and other groups including the Palestinian Hamas.
Washington recalled its ambassador to Syria following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in February 2005, which many Lebanese blame on Syria. Damascus denies any involvement.
Outraged by the raid, Syria ordered the closure of an American school and an American cultural center in Damascus. The two institutions must close by November 6.
The U.S. embassy in Damascus had said that it will not be staffed on Thursday due to an “increased security risk” and that “unforeseen events or circumstances may occur that could cause the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to close to the public for an unspecified period of time.”
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Caroline Drees