Syria has said that US special forces killed eight civilians during a cross-border raid [AFP]

Syria has accused the US of being behind a deadly raid on a Syrian village lying close to the country's border with Iraq, a claim which so far has not been answered by Washington.

Damascus says that eight people in the village of Sukariya, all of them civilians, were killed by US special forces who had been transported to the area by helicopter.  

If the raid is admitted by Washington, it will be the most serious cross-border raid carried out by US forces since the beginning of the US-led occupation of Iraq, Syria's neighbour, in 2003.

Washington and Baghdad have said on several occasions that fighters opposed to the US presence in Iraq and the country's Shia-led government have entered Iraq by crossing the border with Syria.

The Bush administration has claimed that Damascus is not doing enough to prevent fighters linked to al-Qaeda, which is a Sunni Muslim armed organisation, from infiltrating the border.

Porous border

For its part, the Syrian government says that it is not receiving sufficient international support to police its border effectively.

Relations between the US and Syria are set to deteriorate following the alleged raid [AFP]
Syrian security forces say they have an insufficient amount of night-vision equipment to keep watch over the 600km-border at night.

"Syria has one million and a half refugees - it is impossible to make it a fool-proof frontier," Samir al-Taqi, director of the Orient Centre for International Studies, a Syrian think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

"Syria has requested technical assistance to be able to control [the border with Iraq] and the Americans were reluctant.

"The Americans failed to reply to all the requests by the Syrian government and to allow the Iraqis to build up security co-ordination across the border."

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq there have been some instances in which American troops have crossed the Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of fighters, but the latest raid is apparently the most severe.

The alleged raid comes after the commander of US forces in western Iraq said that the US has redoubled efforts to secure the Syrian border.

US Major-General John Kelly said on Thursday that the border was previously an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

He said the porous nature of the Syria-Iraq border contrasted with Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, saying that they were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries.

"The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side... We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement," Kelly said.

'Policy escalation'

Riad Kahouaji, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (Inegma), told Al Jazeera that if the Sukariya raid is the work of US forces, it would mark an escalation in US military manoeuvres in Syria. 

"I think what we are seeing now is an extension to the policy that the Americans are implementing across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.

"I think this is an option that [the US has] been entertaining for quite a while now, and now they have decided to pursue it. The difference here is that Pakistan is a strong ally of the US and has been turning a blind eye and allowing the US to infiltrate its airspace and attack Taliban and al-Qaeda bases.

"Syria is not an ally of the US and the situation is totally different. It could have a lot of repercussions."

The US may have carried out the cross-border attack due to concerns that Damascus is not doing enough to crack down on fighters in Syria who are said to be fuelling the armed opposition against the Iraqi government and the US-led occupation in Iraq.

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, told Al Jazeera: "Remember - Syrian sovereignty carries responsibilities as well as rights. One of those responsibilities is to ensure that its territory is not used for terrorist attacks against innocent civilians in the sovereign territory of Iraq.

"We don't know the details, but it sounds like [the raid] was an effort to stop the flow of terrorists into Iraq.

"I think there has been evidence for five years that Syria has not controlled its borders; that thousands of fighters, [items of] equipment, weapons, and finances have flowed across the border into Iraq.
 
"I think the timing is dictated by military factors on the ground. If Syria can't control its side of the border, there is a right of self-defence in Iraqi and American forces and I think that is undoubtedly what the issue was here."

Source: Al Jazeera