DAMASCUS, SYRIA, AUG. 26 (SUNDAY) -- Seven Britons and an Australian working in Iraq escaped across the desert in trucks Saturday to Syria, the first Westerners to cross the closed Iraqi-Syrian border since the gulf crisis erupted.

"I would rather be shot than stay in Baghdad," British engineer Martin Watts told reporters in Damascus after a 43-hour drive from Baghdad.

The group, which worked for the British company Tileman building a power station near the Iraqi capital, planned their escape a week ago, according to Watts.

"We told people there we were going to Baghdad for a beer, boarded our trucks, carried a map and our passports and drove west across the desert," he said.

The escapees did not encounter any Iraqi troops on their way and did not initially realize they had made it to Syria after crossing the border.

The escapees said the Syrians treated them well. "Very nice young Syrians found us this morning {Saturday} and gave us a cup of tea," Watts said. They were due to fly home later today.

Watts described the situation in Iraq as tense. "The expatriates don't like it. Most Iraqis do not like it."

Syrian Information Minister Mohammed Salman said his country's posts on the border with Iraq had now been ordered to admit foreigners fleeing Iraq.

Syria's relations with the West have improved dramatically since it condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and sent 1,200 troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Foreign Office minister William Waldegrave said Saturday Britain should review its relations with both Syria and Iran.

Also Saturday, a Scottish teenager freed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein arrived in London for a reunion with his parents and said that he and other British captives filmed by Baghdad television had been held at army apartments.

Alan Barnett, 15, said the Britons were well treated. He was traveling alone to boarding school in India when his plane was stranded in Kuwait by Iraq's invasion.

"We were given a fair amount of freedom, and the Iraqis were quite nice to us. They didn't push us around or anything like that," Barnett said.

His parents, Bill and Anne Barnett, saw their son in a televised videotape in which Saddam chatted with a group of Britons detained in Iraq.

After the videotaping, Barnett returned to the barracks and was doing his laundry when Saddam, through a translator, "asked me if I wanted to leave. I said yes. The next thing I heard was that I was going home."