Demonstrators denounced the US raid as a "criminal act" and "terrorism" [AFP]

Thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets of the capital Damascus to protest against a US raid which killed eight people near the border with Iraq.

Riot police were deployed outside the US embassy as the demonstrators, mostly civil servants and students, gathered for the government-backed protest a few kilometres away.

The embassy, which was pelted with stones during a protest against US-led air raids on Iraq in 1998, was closed on Thursday due to security concerns.

But the situation remained peaceful as the protesters filled the Youssef al-Azmi square and surrounding streets in the al-Maliki neighbourhood, with some Syrians forming circles and performing traditional dances.

Some demonstrators carried banners denouncing the United States, as well as national flags and pictures of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

"America the sponsor of destruction and wars," one of the banners read.

'Civilians killed'

Damascus says that eight civilians, including a number of children, were killed when US troops in helicopters crossed into eastern Syria last Sunday.

The US state department and the Pentagon have both officially refused to comment on the incident in Abu Kamal, but a US official has told news agencies that the operation targeted an Iraqi national who was smuggling arms and fighters across the border.

Damascus says eight civilians died in the US raid in Abu Kamal [AFP]
Hussam Baayoun, a 20-year-old university student at the rally, said the US raid was a "criminal act".

"We want the Americans to stop their acts of terrorism in Syria, in Iraq and the rest of the world," he said.

Syria has demanded a formal apology for the raid and has threatened to cut off co-operation over border security if there is any repeat of the incident.

"This aggression did not succeed," Mohsen Bilal, Syria's information minister, said.

"It was supposed to yield a catch so that they could show it to the world ... But the catch turned out to be an innocent family."

In response to the attack, Damascus has ordered the closure by November 6 of a US school and an American cultural centre in the capital.

The United States has repeatedly accused Syria of not doing enough to stop the trafficking of weapons and anti-government fighters into Iraq, but Damascus says it is doing all it can to secure the porous border.

Source: Agencies