U.S. Closes Damascus Embassy to Public

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DAMASCUS, Syria - The U.S. will close its embassy in Damascus Thursday "due to increased security risk," as tensions continue to escalate following Sunday's raid on the border town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria.

"The U.S. Embassy will be closed on October 30 due to past demonstrations that resulted in violence and significant damage to U.S. facilities and other embassies," read a statement on the embassy's Web site.

U.S. citizens residing in Syria were told to be on the alert for potential altercations against them.

On Thursday, groups identifying themselves as "independents" organized a government-sanctioned demonstration to be held in Damascus, protesting the U.S. raid, which killed eight people.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government ordered the closure of the Damascus Community School, which serves American families living in Syria, by November 6, and the immediate closure of the American Cultural Center, which is linked to embassy functions.

"We are looking at how to respond," State Department Deputy spokesman Robert Wood said. "We expect the Syrian government to provide adequate security for the buildings in which the American Cultural Center and Damascus Community School are housed," he said.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad warned that cooperation between Syria and Iraq could be jeopardized.

"We have demanded that an investigation be conducted and that Iraq not be used for attacks against Syria," Mekdad told The Associated Press.

"Otherwise, this would torpedo all agreements reached during Iraq's neighbors' meetings and bilateral agreements," he said.

The Syrian government denied that the air strike targeted al-Qaeda leader Abu Ghadiyah, also known as Badran Turki al-Mazidih, and has petitioned the U.N. Security Council to condemn the raid.

The U.S. military said Abu Ghadiyah funneled gunmen, weapons and cash across the border to insurgents in Iraq.

Mekdad rejected U.S. claims, insisting the victims were all Syrian nationals.

"The allegation that this person was killed is a false claim," he said. "Therefore, a search for him by world intelligence agencies, including Syria's, should continue," Mekdad said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem made similar statements to reporters during a visit to London earlier in the week.

Sources: Reuters, The Associated Press

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