TOPICS > Nation

Syria Says Bus Carrying Civilians Bombed by Coalition Plane

BY Admin  March 24, 2003 at 9:15 AM EST

The U.S. and British envoys to Damascus were handed an official protest from the Syrian Foreign Ministry.

“This act represents a breach of the 1949 Geneva convention on protecting civilians during war… therefore the Syrian Arab Republic condemns this act and reserves the right to demand compensation in line with international law,” it said.

A U.S. Central Command spokeswoman told the Associated Press that she had no information on the report. She said, however, that U.S. forces do not target civilians and that they fire very carefully, using precision-guided missiles against select military targets.

A Syrian government official told CNN that there were no “justifiable targets” in the area where the bus was hit.

Syrian Information Minister Adnan Omran told United Press International 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.”

An official Syrian statement said that a U.S. and British aircraft had bombed the bus. An earlier report from the official Syrian Arab News Agency said a U.S. plane had fired a missile at the bus.

The Syrian Arab News Agency said the incident occurred on Sunday morning in Iraq’s al-Rutbeh area, some 160 km (100 miles) from the Syrian border.

The bodies of the dead were taken to a Damascus hospital, hospital director Abdullah al-Asali told Reuters. “The deaths were caused by an explosion… We saw shrapnel wounds and distortions due to an explosion,” he said.

A bus passenger interviewed by Syrian television said the bus was part of a convoy of three heading to Syria. “An aircraft fired a missile at us. Some survived, others were hit,” he said.

Syria, the only current Arab member of the United Nations Security Council, has been a staunch opponent of the U.S.-led war on fellow Arab state Iraq.

Iraq has attracted laborers from Arab and Asian countries for years, despite crippling economic sanctions imposed on Baghdad for its 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait.