The Syrian embassy in Washington said in a statement on Tuesday that US policies in the Middle East had fuelled extremism, terrorism and anti-US sentiment.

"What has happened recently in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq is exacerbating the fight against global terrorism.
  
"The US should take this opportunity to review its policies in the Middle East and start looking at the root causes of terrorism, and broker a comprehensive peace in the Middle East," t
he statement said.

On Wednesday, however, Syria suggested that its efforts in foiling the attack could pave the way for an improvement in tense relations between the two nations.

"The ball is now in the US administration's court," Syria's ambassador to Washington told the official Ath-Thawra newspaper.

"The policies followed by this administration do not help in  improving relations in a positive fashion," Imad Mustafa said.

"There is a chance to improve these relations because Syria has always believed in dialogue as a means to solving all problems and  pending issues."

Fourth man dead

A fourth man who allegedly participated in the embassy attack has died from injuries, a Syrian official said on Wednesday.

The man died at a hospital on Tuesday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Three of the other suspected Muslim fighters were killed in Tuesday's assault on the embassy. Syrian authorities were not able to interrogate the fourth man because he was in a critical condition before he died, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana) said.

All four of the alleged assailants were Syrian citizens, Sana said.

No claim yet

Syrian officials called the attack a "terrorist" act, with Sana describing the assailants as takfiri Islamist radicals (those who call for the restoration of the version of Islam that was implemented during the life of prophet Muhamad, and see anyone oppose this idea as infidel or kafir), although no group has yet claimed responsibility.

The embassy remained closed on Wednesday, after Americans were warned to keep a low profile.

Syrian firefighter hoses down a
burnt car near the US embassy

Bassam Abdel Majid, the Syrian interior minister, said an initial investigation showed the two vehicles used in the attack were stolen, state television said.

Although the attackers failed to penetrate the high  barbed-wire-topped walls of the compound, one reinforced glass window near an entrance door was pierced by a bullet.

The Bush administration has previously often condemned Syria, which it says supports the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, and accuses it of harbouring terrorists and inciting unrest in Iraq.
  
Washington withdrew its ambassador in Damascus after the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, last year.

Syria denied findings of a UN investigation which implicated its intelligence services in the killing.

US praise

The Syrian embassy's statement came just hours after Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and the White House, offered praise for the Syrian security forces for foiling Tuesday's attack.

"What has happened recently in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq is exacerbating the fight against global terrorism"

Syrian embassy in Washington

Rice said during a visit to Canada that she was grateful for Syria's actions.
  
"We appreciate the response of the Syrian security forces to  help secure our territory. I was very grateful that the attack did not succeed," she said.

The White House emphasised that the incident highlighted the importance of Damascus' aid in fighting extremism.

"We are hoping they will become an ally and make the choice of fighting against terrorists," said Tony Snow, the White House spokesman.

The attack

Television footage of the scene on Tuesday showed a van packed with gas canisters and detonators taped to them, as well as bloodstains on the pavement and several damaged vehicles, including a white, bullet-riddled car.

"I would certainly reject the notion that the United States ... is the cause of violence. It's clearly the opposite way"

Tom Casey,
US State Department deputy spokesman

Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Syrian political commentator who was in the area, said: "I saw two men in plain clothes and armed with grenades and automatic weapons.

"They ran toward the compound shouting religious slogans while firing their automatic rifles."

The attack, one day after the fifth anniversary of al-Qaeda's attacks on the US, was the first such shooting and bombing assault on an embassy in Damascus.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency said that three assailants were killed in Tuesday's attack and a fourth was wounded. Eleven bystanders were wounded, including an Iraqi couple and a senior Chinese diplomat.

A member of the Syrian security services was killed.

The Rawda district where the attack occurred is one of the most heavily guarded parts of the Syrian capital. It comprises security installations and the homes of senior government officials.