Syria today rebuffed a U.S. request to close the Damascus office of Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for killing 12 Israelis in a Hebron ambush last week.

It said the office had nothing to do with the attack in the West Bank city.

The exchange was the latest instance of sparring with Washington over Damascus's backing of the Palestinian militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which the U.S. administration describes as terrorist organizations but Syria backs as legitimate resistance to Israel.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made the request in a weekend letter, but said the attack was caused by U.S. policy and Israeli occupation.

"The Syrian government has more than once made clear the informational character of these offices, whose work is limited to expressing their viewpoint," a statement from the ministry said.

"It is well known that these operations are planned and carried out in the occupied territories as a result of the continuation of the occupation and its practices and not based on instructions issued by the media offices that are found in some Arab capitals," the statement said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said U.S. Ambassador Theodore Kattouf passed on the U.S. request to the Syrian Foreign Ministry.

"It's in the Syrians' best interests to get with the mainstream of the international community and reject this type of organization that conducts the type of violence that doesn't produce anything except more pain and suffering for people on all sides, for the Middle East people," he said.