October 28, 2007 / 7:46 PM / 12 years ago

IAEA chief criticizes Israel over Syria raid

WASHINGTON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog criticized Israel on Sunday for attacking a suspicious Syrian site last month, saying the "bomb first and then ask questions later" undermined global atomic monitoring work.

In his first public comment on Israel’s mysterious bombing run on what some analysts suggested was a nascent Syrian nuclear reactor, Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, called on the Israelis and other countries to share information with IAEA.

"That to me is very distressful because we have a system," he told CNN in an interview. "If countries have information that the country is working on a nuclear-related program, they should come to us."

Israel has given no details on the target of the Sept. 6 air strike. Syria denied having such a facility.

Citing satellite images, a Washington-based atomic research institute said Israel appeared to have bombed a facility in northern Syria resembling a North Korean gas graphite nuclear reactor. The Syrians razed the site after the raid, the Institute for Science and International Security said.

ElBaradei told CNN’s "Late Edition" the IAEA has not received information about any clandestine nuclear activities in Syria. He said the Vienna-based agency had the authority and capacity to investigate any such information.

"But to bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn’t lead to any solution to any suspicion," said ElBaradei.

The IAEA chief said was he told by the Syrians the site hit by Israel was a military facility with "nothing to do with nuclear."

The IAEA was comparing commercial satellite photos of the site before and after the Sept. 6 raid, ElBaradei said.

"But in addition to us buying commercial photos, I would very much hope that countries will come forward if they have information so we’ll do — go through a due process," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that he apologized to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting in London last week because Israel’s air force may have flown over neighboring Turkey during the sortie.

Since 2003, the IAEA has been investigating Western suspicions of secret attempts by Iran, an ally of Syria, to build atom bombs. Iran says its nuclear energy program is intended solely to provide an alternative source of electricity.

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