The Syrian government is covertly engaged in the construction of a new nuclear facility near the city of Homs, the German weekly Der Spiegel revealed on Saturday.
According to the report, which is based on satellite images and secret intelligence documents that include transcriptions of intercepted telephone conversations, the Syrians are being aided in their efforts by North Korea.
The project is codenamed "zamzam," after the holy spring located near the Black Stone in Mecca.
The report in the German weekly suggests Syrian President Bashar Assad has not given up his aspirations to obtain nuclear arms. According to the report, Assad is renewing his nuclear project which suffered a serious setback after Israel destroyed the heavy water reactor secretly built in Syria's northeast in 2007. That reactor, too, was built with help from North Korea and Iran.
According to Der Spiegel, the new underground facility is located in the center of a mountain, into which a network of tunnels has been dug. Located in a remote, rugged region, the facility is connected to a power plant and to a water source used for cooling. Experts who viewed the satellite photos estimated the facility is meant for uranium enrichment.
According to the report, the Syrians have transferred 8,000 fuel rods to the facility, which they received in 2007 and were meant for the destroyed plant.
Der Spiegel also reported that the plant was being guarded by militants belonging to Hezbollah, which is aiding the Syrian government in its fight against opposition forces in the nation's civil war.
In 2007, it was widely reported by world media that Israeli jets entered Syrian territory and attacked an uncompleted nuclear facility being erected near the northeastern Syrian city of Deir Al-Zor. That facility too was being built with North Korean assistance.
The incident was widely discussed in the world media and later also by former top American officials, including former president George W. Bush. According to the reports, Israel's prime minister at the time Ehud Olmert called George Bush to inform him of the mission's success.
American experts said the bombed facility was in its final stages of construction, but still far from becoming operative.