In Damascus’s first official reaction, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said Syria had demanded Washington “return…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”.

SANA said the Syrian foreign ministry had summoned the US ambassador in Damascus to protest about a “military incident to which a military patrol was subjected at a border post south of (the town) Bukmal”.

The Washington Post had reported that an Iraqi woman and her one-year-old child were killed in the strike, which the United States said was aimed at what intelligence reports said was a convoy carrying high-ranking Iraqi officials.

In Washington the US State Department confirmed that Damascus had lodged a protest. The US has been in contact with Syria over the last few days to discuss how to return the injured guards. 

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted the Syrian border guards were not being held and were only being treated for their injuries.

A senior US official in Washington said on Wednesday that Rumsfeld was pressing military commanders for details of the attack.

Both Damascus and Washington had refused to say whether the incident took place on Syrian territory.