The United Nations on Wednesday blamed an interpreter's error for an erroneous report that Syria said an Israeli airstrike hit a Syrian nuclear facility, a mistake that made headlines in the Middle East and heightened concerns over Damascus' nuclear ambitions.
Syria denied on Wednesday that one of its representatives told the UN General Assembly's First Committee, which deals with disarmament issues, on Tuesday that Israel had attacked a Syrian nuclear facility and added that such facilities do not exist in Syria.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, quoting an unnamed Foreign Ministry source, said its representative was misquoted - and after more than seven hours of investigation the United Nations said that was indeed the case.
"There was an interpretation error made yesterday when the First Committee was in session," UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq said. "There was no use of the word nuclear."
Although in English the interpreter had suggested that the Syrian delegate had referred to an attack on a nuclear facility, what he said was 'like what happened on the 6th of September against my country,' Haq said.
The incident started Tuesday night with a UN press summary of the disarmament committee which paraphrased an unnamed Syrian representative as saying that Israel was the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations' airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria.
Israel Air Force warplanes carried out a strike in northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey on September 6, not July 6.
The target remains unknown but widespread reports say it may have been a nascent nuclear facility, a claim Syria has denied.
At UN headquarters in New York, the spokesman's office said Wednesday morning the Syrian representative spoke in Arabic.
After several hours, Haq said the exact words of the English interpreter were: "An entity that is the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction in the world, an entity that violates other countries' airspace, and that takes action against nuclear facilities, including the attack on 6 July this year on a nuclear facility in my country - that entity has no right to lie, which it has done consistently."
It took until late afternoon for the United Nations to issue the correct translation from the original Arabic words spoken by the Syrian representative.
According to the corrected text, the Syrian delegate said: "...the [entity] that is ranking number four among the exporters of lethal weapons in the world; that which violates the airspace of sovereign states and carries out military aggression against them, like what happened on September 6 against my country, such entity with all those characteristics and even more, has no right for its representative to go on lying without shame..."
Israeli radio stations, citing unidentified Israeli diplomats, on Wednesday quoted the Syrians as telling the UN meeting that a nuclear target had been struck. However, the Israeli radio reports did not say whether the Israeli diplomats had attended the session or merely had read the UN press release on the meeting.
President Bashar Assad said earlier this month that the target was an unused military building.
Asked about the September 6 incident on Tuesday, before the erroneous report surfaced, UNSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon said we have not received any concrete evidence and concrete information. We need to get more clear information.
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