Syria has begun dismantling the remains of a what American and foreign officials suspect was a nuclear facility targeted by Israel in an air strike in September, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
The report is based on testimony provided by US and foreign officials who are familiar with the incident and have seen aerial photographs of the site. According to those officials, the area bore "signature" characteristics of a small but substantial nuclear reactor similar to those found in North Korea.
The dismantling of the damaged site, which appears to be still underway, could make it difficult for weapons inspectors to determine the precise nature of the facility and how Syria planned to use it, the Post reported.
Meanwhile, UN experts were reported to have received satellite imagery of the site struck and were analyzing it for signs that it might have been a secret nuclear facility, diplomats said Friday.
One of the diplomats, who is linked to the International Atomic Energy Agency - the UN nuclear watchdog looking at the images - said IAEA experts were looking at commercial images, disputing earlier suggestions that they had come from US intelligence.
Separately, two diplomats said the images, acquired Thursday, did not at first examination appear to substantiate reports that the target was a nuclear installation, but emphasized that the photos were still under examination.
All of those who spoke to The Associated Press were briefed on the agency's receipt of the images but demanded anonymity because their information was confidential. Officials of the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog and the US diplomatic mission to the IAEA had no comment.
Last Saturday, the New York Times reported that the September 6 air strike targeted what US and Israeli intelligence believed to be a partly constructed nuclear reactor.
According to the Times report, Israel carried out the strike to send a message that it would not tolerate a nuclear program even in its initial stages of construction in any neighboring state.
A senior Israeli official cited in the story said the mission was carried out "to reestablish the credibility of our deterrent power." American officials said they believed the attack was meant to send a message to Iran regarding Teheran's nuclear program and Israel's determination to block it.