World News

Syria rebuilding at site bombed by Israel - report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Syria has raised a new building on a remote site bombed by Israel in September that some analysts suspect was a potential nuclear reactor, an independent security monitoring group reported on Monday.

The new building was visible in satellite images taken on Wednesday and does not appear to be a reactor, said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. It could be a warehouse or a shelter to hide excavation work at the bombed site, he said.

“We think that it’s unlikely that it is (a reactor),” said Albright. “It’s just very unlikely that if they were building a reactor secretly there, that they would turn around and start rebuilding it, and particularly this quickly.”

The CIA declined to comment on the report. Israel has acknowledged carrying out the Sept. 6 raid, but given no details on the target, which some analysts speculated was a nascent Syrian nuclear reactor.

Syria has denied having such a facility, and it had no comment on the new report.

Diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency have said Syria has not granted IAEA requests to send inspectors to the site, although it has no obligation to do so without hard evidence of nuclear activity there.

In an interview published by pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat on Friday, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Syria had told him the site was an unspecified military facility.

“We have made requests but they offered us no information, neither they nor intelligence agencies (of other countries). I still hope Syria will permit us to visit the targeted location to verify it was not a nuclear facility,” al-Hayat quoted ElBaradei as saying.

The new building was constructed after Oct. 24, when satellite images showed the bombing ruins had been levelled, Albright said. “It’s gone up quickly, so it can’t be very elaborate.”

The photos also showed a line of trenches and sections of pipe running from the site to a possible water treatment facility. Earlier pictures had shown a pumping station at a nearby river and pipes running to the site.

Any nuclear reactor would need a source of water for cooling and a way to exhaust it, Albright said. “There does seem to be some kind of a loop” in the photos, he said.

He also said the building could merely be there to serve as a cover while Syria excavates structures from the old building.

“We really don’t know. Certainly that’s a strategy that has been followed by others so that you could hide close-in work.”

Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna