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Sun 27 Apr 2008 12:21 PM

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Syria denies building nuclear reactor

Al-Assad rubbishes claims Israel air raid last year targeted under construction nuclear facility.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad denied in remarks published on Sunday that a site raided by Israel last year was a nuclear reactor under construction as charged by the US.

Last September's Israeli air strike "hit a military site under construction, not a nuclear site as Israel and America claimed", Assad told the Qatari daily Al-Watan in an interview.

RELATED: Israel admits Syria strike on 'military target'

"Does it make sense that we would build a nuclear facility in the desert and not protect it with anti-aircraft defences?" he asked.

"A nuclear site exposed to [spy] satellites, in the heart of Syria and in an open space?

"We don't want a nuclear bomb even if Iran acquires one," added Assad, whose country is a close ally of Tehran, itself embroiled in a standoff with Washington over its nuclear activities.

"Where would we use it?... War in the region will effectively remain conventional," he said.

Assad underlined that he believed Iran "does not think differently" on this score.

Iran has repeatedly rejected Western suspicions that its nuclear programme is cover for a drive to develop an atomic bomb.

It says nuclear weapons are un-Islamic and insists the programme is aimed solely at generating power for a growing population once fossil fuels run out.

The US has accused Syria of building a secret atomic reactor with North Korean help.

On Thursday, US national security officials briefed US congressmen, presenting intelligence they said showed Syria had been building a secret nuclear reactor for military ends.

They said the plant was being built with the help of North Korea, until its destruction by Israel in an air raid on September 6.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched an investigation into the US accusations on Friday but chided both Israel and the US for their handling of the affair.

RELATED: UN official in Iran to press for nuclear answers

Syria promised its full cooperation.