WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (Reuters) Independent experts have satellite imagery of what they believe to be a Syrian nuclear site targeted in an Israeli air strike last month, The Washington Post reported today.
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations denied the photographs showed a nuclear site and said the only facility in the area concerned was a research center on desertification.
''There is no nuclear site in Syria,'' Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters at the United Nations.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said the photographs taken before the Israeli attack show buildings under construction similar in design to a North Korean reactor, the newspaper reported.
They also show what could have been a pumping station used to supply cooling water for a reactor, the Post said, citing experts David Albright and Paul Brannan of ISIS, a research group that tracks nuclear weapons and stockpiles.
Israel, an important ally to the United States in the region, has confirmed it carried out an air strike on Syria on September. 6, but has not described the target. Syria said only that the target was a building under construction.
According to an ISIS report to be released on Wednesday, the Euphrates River site is just north of the desert village of At Tibnah in the region of Dayr Az Zawr and about 90 miles from the Iraqi border, the Post reported.
Ja'afari denied the photographs showed a nuclear site and said ''rumors'' that they did were an attempt to distract from Israel's violation of Syrian air space.
Asked what facilities in that location might be mistaken for a nuclear facility, he said: ''There is only a center for the research for deserted areas, arid and deserted areas in Syria, an Arab center for the study of the arid areas.'' ''We don't know for sure what was their target, but they were encountered by our air defense fire so they dropped their ammunition and their fuel tanks,'' Ja'afari said.
Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, said the size of the structures suggested that Syria might have been building a gas-graphite reactor similar to the one North Korea built at Yongbyon, the paper reported.
The Washington Post said some nuclear experts urged caution in interpreting the ISIS photos, noting the type of reactor favored by North Korea has few distinguishing characteristics visible from the air.
''You can look at North Korea's (reactor) buildings, and they look like nothing,'' John Pike, a nuclear expert and director of GlobalSecurity.org, told the Post.
The New York Times reported last week the site targeted by Israel was modeled on a facility North Korea used for stockpiling atomic bomb fuel.
Syria has one declared, small research nuclear reactor under safeguard of the International Atomic Energy Agency and has denied hiding any nuclear activity.
REUTERS AE RK2225