MADRID, Spain (AP) _ The U.S. ambassador to Spain apologized Tuesday to the head of the Spanish national news agency EFE for a search by U.S. troops of the agency's offices in Panama.

In a telex to EFE President Alfonso S. Palomares, Joseph Zappala said,''It is regrettable that incidents can occur in these times of conflict which affect those upon whose friendships we count very highly.''

Palomares sent a protest to Zappala and the U.S. Southern Command in Panama Dec. 30, when three U.S. Army soldiers entered the offices to search for a suspected supporter of ousted Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.

That same day, U.S. troops searched the Panama City offices of Spain's state-controlled Iberia Airlines and Banco Exterior de Espana.

Some Spanish commentators implied the searches were made in retaliation for Spain's vote a day earlier in the U.N. General Assembly to condemn the Dec. 20 U.S. invasion of Panama.

Zappala, whose appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in October, expressed his condolences to the leading Spanish daily El Pais on Dec. 23, two days after its photographer, Juan Antonio Rodriguez Moreno, was accidentally shot and killed in a hotel parking lot by U.S. troops in Panama.