IAEA: Syria site bombed by Israel 'was likely nuclear'

Undated photo released by CIA of alleged nuclear reactor under construction in eastern Syria The US said Syria's reactor was similar to a North Korean one

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A Syrian site bombed by Israeli jets in 2007 was "very likely" a nuclear reactor, the UN's atomic watchdog says.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been investigating US claims that Syria was building a secret nuclear reactor with North Korean help.

The strongest IAEA report yet on Syria came after several years of blocked investigations, and is likely to increase the pressure on Damascus.

Israel bombed the remote desert site of the alleged reactor in September 2007.

Syria says the site - near Deir Alzour in the country's remote north-east - was an unused military facility under construction. It also denied having any nuclear links to North Korea, which has itself denied transferring nuclear technology to Syria.

But the confidential IAEA report, obtained by the BBC, says the bombed building was similar in type and size to a reactor and that samples taken from the site indicated a connection with nuclear activities.

Israeli air strike: Sequence of events

  • 6 Sept 2007: Israel bombs site in remote north-east Syria
  • 1 Oct: Syria's President Assad tells BBC site was military
  • 24 Oct: New satellite images taken show site bulldozed clear
  • 24 April 2008: US claims Syrian site was nuclear reactor
  • 24 May 2011: IAEA report concludes site was "very likely" a nuclear reactor

The report's conclusions are likely to raise international pressure on Damascus, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna.

It opens the door for Western powers to push for Syria to be referred to the UN Security council, an action last taken against Iran in 2006. That step could come at the next meeting of the IAEA's board of governors in June.

Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which gives it the right to enrich its own fuel for civil nuclear power, under inspection from the IAEA.

But it has also signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA under which it is obliged to notify the UN's nuclear watchdog of any plans to construct a new nuclear facility.

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