VIENNA (AFP) – Top UN atomic experts left Sunday for Syria on a three-day visit to inspect a mysterious site bombed last year by Israel and suspected by the US of being a nuclear facility.
“We are now travelling to Damascus, we will meet tonight our counterparts and then we start to gather facts,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy chief Olli Heinonen, who heads the team, told journalists at Vienna airport before departure.
“What will be waiting there, we will see when we get there,” he added.
The team is due to visit Al-Kibar site in a remote desert area of northeastern Syria on the Euphrates River during its three-day trip.
The United States claims, based on intelligence and photographic evidence, that the site attacked by Israel in September was a nuclear facility built with North Korean assistance and close to becoming operational.
But Syria has denied the allegations and said Al-Kibar was a disused military building, although Damascus has fed suspicion by wiping clean the site in a move certain to make the IAEA inspection more difficult.
“We will start to establish the facts this evening. We have the first meeting this afternoon, then it goes from there on,” Heinonen said Sunday.
He added he would return to Vienna on Wednesday evening.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has urged Damascus to cooperate with the inspectors but stressed in an interview with an Arab news channel ahead of the visit that there was no evidence of Syrian nuclear foul play.
“We have no evidence that Syria has the human resources that would allow it to carry out a large nuclear programme. We do not see Syria having nuclear fuel,” he told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.