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Report: Satellite photo shows construction at Syrian site bombed by Israel

CAIRO, Egypt - A news report says a satellite photograph of a Syrian site bombed by Israel in September appears to show new construction that resembles the site's former main building.

CAIRO, Egypt - A news report says a satellite photograph of a Syrian site bombed by Israel in September appears to show new construction that resembles the site's former main building.

The image, released Friday by DigitalGlobe, a private company in Longmont, Colo., appears in Saturday's New York Times.

The newspaper says the photo was taken from space Wednesday.

The Israeli air strike has been shrouded in mystery for months. Israel has maintained almost total silence since the Sept. 6 attack, which Syria said hit an unused military installation.

Foreign media reports, some quoting unidentified U.S. officials, have said the strike hit a nuclear installation linked to North Korea.

Damascus denies it has an undeclared atomic program, and North Korea has said it was not involved in any such project.

It could not be immediately verified independently that the satellite photograph was the site hit in the Israeli air strike. A telephone message left Saturday at DigitalGlobe was not immediately returned.

Syrian officials were not available for comment Saturday, and an Israeli government official said the government would not respond to the report.

Commercial satellite images released in October, but taken about a month before the air strike, showed a tall, square building in the desert about 750 metres from the Euphrates River, near the town of Deir al-Zour, 400 kilometres northeast of Damascus.

Images taken after the air strike showed that the site had been levelled and the main building was no longer there.

Some analysts have said the satellite images taken before and after supported suspicions that the target was indeed a reactor and that the site had been given a hasty cleanup by the Syrians to remove incriminating evidence. But other analysts have said the satellite images are too grainy to make any conclusive judgment.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said his agency would like to inspect the Syrian site, according to an interview with the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat.

"I still hope that the brothers in Syria will permit us to visit the targeted location to verify that it was not a nuclear facility," ElBaradei said, according to an English translation of the interview dated Jan. 8 on Al-Hayat's website.

He also said the photographs so far have indicated that the site was not a nuclear facility.

"Based on satellite photographs, experts believe it is unlikely that the targeted construction was a nuclear facility. I consider the Israeli strike to be a negative precedent," he said in the interview.

Syria has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and allowed agency experts to inspect its only known nuclear facility - a small, 27-kilowatt reactor, according to diplomats linked to the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

 
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