Syria nuclear
Suspected Syrian nuclear facility reportedly bombed by Israel in 2007. Photo by Archive
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The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Thursday for the first time that Syria had tried to secretly build a nuclear reactor, after years of speculation by the international community.

The target allegedly destroyed by Israeli warplanes in the desert area of Dair Alzour in September 2007 was actually a reactor under construction, said Yukiya Amano, the secretary general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Syria denies that the bombed building had any nuclear uses and rejects allegations that it is conducting secret atomic activities.

Previous IAEA reports have suggested that the structure hit could have been a reactor, but Amano's comments on Thursday were the first time the agency has said so unequivocally.

For over two years, Syria has refused IAEA follow-up access to the remains of the complex that was being built at Dair Alzour. U.S. intelligence reports said it was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor intended to produce bomb fuel.

Inspectors found traces of uranium there in June 2008 that were not in Syria's declared nuclear inventory, heightening concerns. Syria stonewalled IAEA attempts to follow up that visit.

In early April, however, the IARA carried out an agreed inspection of another Syrian plant, as part of its wider inquiry into U.S. intelligence suggesting Syria location tried to build a nuclear reactor at another suited to producing plutonium for atomic bombs.

Syria, which denies any nuclear weapons ambitions, agreed with the IAEA the months prior that its inspectors could travel to the Homs acid purification plant, where uranium concentrates, or yellowcake, have been a by-product. In the event that yellowcake is further processed, they could be used as nuclear fuel. Syria says the plant is for making fertilizers.

The IAEA saw the April visit as a possible positive step, even though the United States said the gesture would not be enough to address allegations of covert atomic activity.

Syria, an ally of Iran, whose nuclear program is also under IAEA investigation, denies ever concealing work on nuclear weapons and says the IAEA should focus on Israel instead because of its undeclared nuclear arsenal.