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Syria's Assad Slams Iraq Over 'Immoral' Charges

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (second from right) speaks to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (second from left) as he surveys the damage following a truck bomb placed outside the Foreign Ministry building in Baghdad on August 24.
DAMASCUS (Reuters) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has described as "immoral" Iraq's accusation that Damascus was responsible for attacks inside its territory and again asked Baghdad to produce evidence.

His remarks were the latest salvo in an escalating war of words between the two neighbors since Iraqi officials accused Syria of complicity in a spike of militant attacks in Iraq.

"When Syria is accused of killing Iraqis, while it is housing around 1.2 million Iraqis...this is considered an immoral accusation," Assad told a joint news conference with visiting Cypriot President Demetris Christofias in Damascus.

"When Syria is accused of supporting terrorism, while it has been fighting it for decades...this is a political accusation that follows no political logic. And when it is accused of terrorism without proof, it is outside any legal logic."

Iraq and Syria recalled their ambassadors last week after Baghdad demanded that Damascus hand over two alleged masterminds of bombings in Baghdad that killed almost 100 people, mainly at two government ministries.

On August 30, Iraq aired a confession from a suspected Al-Qaeda militant who accused Syrian intelligence agents of training foreign fighters like himself in a camp before sending them to fight in Iraq.

Assad said Syria was still waiting for Iraq to send a delegation with documented evidence of the charges.

Iran has called for talks among Iraq and its neighbors in the wake of the accusations, and Turkey's foreign minister was to visit Iraq and Syria on August 31 to try to soothe relations between the two.

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has blamed supporters of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party for massive truck bombs and other attacks in August, and says it has already captured some suspects.

Syria and Iraq, ruled by rival wings of the Baath party, were at odds for years after Hussein came to power in 1979, but ties improved and trade surged in the late 1990s.

Tensions resurfaced after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with the U.S. and Iraqi governments accusing Syria of sheltering Hussein loyalists and letting Sunni insurgents stream into Iraq.