Syrian forces will not fight inside Iraq, Syria's foreign minister said Wednesday after Syrian soldiers reportedly fought Iraqi troops for the first time in the Persian Gulf war.

Farpil al-Shara told reporters at Heathrow Airport that Syria's 20,000 or so soldiers in the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq are in Saudi Arabia for defensive purposes and in compliance with the Arab League charter."These forces are under the command of the Saudis and certainly these forces would not be involved in an operation inside Iraq, and we regret that there are continuing operations inside Iraq," he said, reiterating his nation's stance.

Earlier Wednesday, the Syrian government and its state-run media was silent on reports from Saudi Arabia that Syrian forces fought Iraqi troops for the first time in the war.

U.S. Marine officers said Tuesday that Iraqi troops overran one Syrian position and fired at another in a surprise push Monday night into northeastern Saudi Arabia. They said the Syrians turned back the assault but gave few details.

The Syrian foreign minister was to talk about the war and a Middle East peace plan with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. Al-Shara is the first senior Syrian minister to visit Britain since diplomatic ties were severed in 1986..