IAEA chief locks horns with Israel over Damascus

VIENNA: UN watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei sparred with an Israeli envoy on Thursday after being accused of bias in the handling of an investigation into Syria’s nuclear activities, diplomats said.

The United States, meanwhile, accused Syria of obstructing the International Atomic Energy Agency probe into allegations that it was building a secret nuclear reactor at a site that was bombed by Israeli jets in September 2007.

Israeli ambassador Israel Michaeli accused ElBaradei during a debate on Syria at a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-member board.

Michaeli urged ElBaradei, an Egyptian, “to avoid political bias in dealing with Syria’s nuclear file.” ElBaradei has frequently hit out at Israel for not informing the IAEA of its concerns about the suspect site in Syria before bombing it.

“Israel has responded timely and in good faith to the question addressed to it regarding the possible origin on the uranium particles, traced in the site of the nuclear reactor in Dair Alzour,” Michaeli said in remarks, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Traces of uranium were found at the site — known alternatively as Dair Alzour or Al-Kibar — which Damascus claims came from the Israeli bombs that razed the building.

“Therefore the repeated calls by the director general on Israel to cooperate with this investigation are redundant,” the envoy added, accusing ElBaradei of “publicly bashing at Israel.” The IAEA chief was angered by Michaeli’s remarks, according to the diplomat and retorted that Israel’s position was “totally distorted”. “We’re not behaving selectively but across the board. We’re implementing the international law. When Israel bombed what was claimed to be a nuclear facility, it was not only hampering our work, but it was a clear violation of international law,” ElBaradei said.

“You, sir, your action is deplored (sic) by not allowing us to do what we’re supposed to do under international law,” the IAEA chief said.

“You’re not even a member of the regime to tell us what to do,” ElBaradei said, referring to Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treath (NPT).

“We would appreciate it if you stopped preaching us.” Syria was the main focus of debate on the fourth day of the IAEA meeting.