- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 24 (UPI) — Syria strongly condemned the killing of five of its civilians in a coalition air strike that targeted their bus while on their way home from Iraq and summoned the U.S. and British ambassadors to lodge an official protest.

An official Syrian source said Monday the U.S. and British warplanes raided a Syrian passenger bus carrying workers from Iraq back to Syria on Sunday morning.

The source said "this criminal act resulted in the killing of five Syrian civilians and the injury of others." He did not specify how many were wounded.

He said the air strike was in violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention related to the protection of civilians during war time and that Syria preserves the right to request compensation in line with international laws.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of the U.S. and Britain, lodged an official protest against "this terrible aggression" and warned against "the danger of targeting innocent civilians."

A medical source in the Douma hospital near Damascus said the bodies of the five slain Syrians were handed to their families and three of the wounded were being treated. The source said the other injured civilians received medical treatment in the Syrian medical center in the Tanaf region near the Syrian-Iraqi border.

One of the wounded said they were surprised by the coalition air attack which occurred when the bus stopped to allow the passengers have some rest. He said the coalition jets dropped cluster bombs on them.

Syrian Information Minister Adnan Omran said Sunday's air attack indicated that shelling was being focused on civilian cars and targets.

"This is a dangerous matter and refutes claims that they only hit military targets," Omran said. "I don't know how a bus carrying people returning home and escaping bombardment and destruction can be mistaken as a military target. This is a civilian target. This is an example. There are many other targets such as houses, restaurants, gas stations and schools on the border that were damaged or destroyed."

(Walid Najm in Damascus contributed to this report)

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