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Syria's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Israel's nuclear capabilities were sparking an arms race in the region.

"The fact that UN and IAEA decisions regarding Israel's nuclear capability are not implemented increases the frustration of the Arab states and threatens to expand the arms race that could threaten the peace and security of the region and entire world," said Ibrahim Othman at IAEA's annual conference.

According to reports in the American and British media, the target of an alleged Israel Air Force strike on Syria earlier this month was a nuclear facility built with North Korea's assistance.

Syria has said IAF planes violated its airspace and fired missiles at targets on the ground, but both Damascus and Pyongyang have vehemently denied the reports of nuclear cooperation.

"[Israel] has nuclear weapons and nuclear capabilities, that are not under international supervision," Othman continued. "It is a legitimate concern to ask Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty."

The 144-nation IAEA conference criticized Israel for refusing to put its nuclear program under international purview, with the United States alone in supporting Israel.

Besides Washington, only Israel voted against the resolution while 53 nations backed it and 47 abstained. The remaining nations were absent for the highly unusual vote - only the second in the 16 years the issue has been on the agenda of the IAEA.

Up to last year, the resolution on Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East had been adopted by consensus, but in 2006, and again this year, Israeli objections forced a vote.

This year, Israel opposed two paragraphs - one calling all nations in the Middle East not to develop, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, the other urging nuclear weapons states to refrain from any action hindering the establishment of a Mideast zone free of nuclear weapons.

Both passages were clearly aimed at Israel, which is considered to have nuclear weapons despite its no tell policy on the issue and which counts on the United States as its chief ally for support - both in the outside world and in forums such as the conference.

Israeli opposition last year was sparked by a separate Arab-sponsored resolution deeming Israel a nuclear threat and refusal by its sponsors to withdraw it.

While that resolution was put up for adoption it was not voted on. A similar resolution was being prepared for consideration at the gathering Friday.

A Western diplomat whose country normally is supportive of Israel sought to diminish the negative impact of the vote, pointing out that last year, 98 approved the resolution, with three abstaining and the United States and Israel opposed.

Still, although the conference has no decision-making powers, the lack of consensus reflected deepening tensions in the Middle East.

Israel's doctrine of nuclear ambiguity - never formally confirming or denying that it has such weapons - is meant to scare potential enemies from considering an annihilating attack while denying them the rationale for developing their own nuclear deterrent.

Explaining his call for a vote, chief Israeli delegate Gideon Frank suggested lack of willingness to remove resolution language his country objected to showed there was no interest in consensus by Egypt, which submitted the document and the other nations most in support - Arab countries and Iran.

The way to build security ... is to aim high but start modestly and move carefully ahead, Frank told delegates, arguing - as every year - that distrust in the region had to be dismantled slowly before sweeping measures like a Middle East nuclear-free zone could be established.

Bush: North Korea must halt nuclear proliferation U.S. President George W. Bush said on Thursday he expects North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program and not allow other countries to gain its know-how on producing such technology and weapons.

"We expect them to honor their commitment to give up weapons and weapons programs," Bush said during a news conference. "To the extent that they are proliferating, we expect them to stop their proliferation."

Bush made the statement after refusing to comment directly on a reported IAF strike in Syria earlier this month.

In what appears to be the first confirmation by a senior politician of foreign media reports, MK Benjamin Netanyahu told Channel One television Wednesday that he was party to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to attack Syria, an operation on which Israeli officials have remained uncharacteristically silent.

Baath Party official: Syrian Air Force at "high" level of readiness A senior Baath Party official on Thursday said that the Syrian Air Force is currently at a "high" level of readiness and awaiting orders to respond to the alleged IAF strike in Syria.

The official's statements came in an interview given to a reporter from the Arab-Israeli newspaper "Al-Hadat," which is published in Arabic in the city of Tamra in the Galilee.

The official, whose name was not revealed, stated that there are voices in Damascus calling for a harsh response to the alleged IAF raid and an end to all diplomatic initiatives meant to kick-start dialogue with Israel.

The real purpose of the IAF raid according to the official was to check the willingness of Iran to defend Syria against an Israeli attack, required under agreements recently signed between the two countries.

Also Thursday, Syrian opposition leader Abd al-Halim Khaddam was quoted as saying Damascus' ability to react to Israel's alleged air strike was limited because of the undemocratic nature of its regime.

In an interview with the A-Sinara paper, the former Syrian vice president Khaddam said Damascus has the military might to react, but chose not to due to political instability from within.

"When the regime undermines the national unity and does not treat financial crises, the right elements that allow a response are not created," he said.

Khaddam has been in exile since 2005 and is the head of an opposition group to the government headed by Syrian President Bashar Assad.