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4 Dead in Syria Gunfire at Ex-U.N. Office

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#1    DC09



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Posted 27 April 2004 - 11:50 PM

DAMASCUS, Syria - Gunmen attacked a former United Nations office in a diplomatic quarter of Damascus, setting off a battle with police that pelted nearby buildings with bullets and grenades.

The fighting killed two attackers, a policeman and a civilian, the government said.

Syria has not seen such violence since the 1980s, when the government put down an insurgency by Islamic militants.

The vacant building was formerly occupied by the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which oversees an agreement between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. It was extensively damaged by fire during the gunbattle.

"Unidentified terrorists attacked a U.N. office building in Damascus and this office is surrounded by many embassies as well," Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, said in a telephone interview from Washington.

Moustapha said it was too early to know the motivation of the attackers or whether they were Islamist.

"There was a random exchange of fire and probably every building in that area was hit by a grenade or a bullet" before security forces surrounded the area and returned fire, he said.

Syria's official news agency SANA, quoting a security source, called the attackers "a terrorist band."

The Al-Arabiya television network said there were four attackers. It said three were killed and one wounded. The report could not be immediately confirmed.

After the gunbattle, large crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the damaged building. Youths drove by honking car horns, waving pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and chanting pro-Syrian and pro-Assad slogans.

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