Ben Yishai poses in front of facility
Photo: Ron Ben Yishai
Syria tries to clear rumors of nuclear activity
In attempt to disprove reports that it is developing nuclear power, Damascus invites international journalists to tour Deir ez-Zor site which Ynet reported was the target of the Israeli Air Force attack - to prove it is nothing but an agricultural center. New York Times reporter describes tour
The Syrian regime is doing all in its power to prove that there is no military base in Deir ez-Zor, and certainly no facility using any type of nuclear materials.


Since Ynet delegate Ron Ben Yishai's visit to the Syrian site and his report that the facility there may have been the target of Israel's air strike, Syria has invited many journalists to see first hand that there is nothing there but a center for agricultural research.


For his article, Ben Yishai photographed himself in front of a sign for the Deir ez-Zor agricultural facility and claimed that Syrian authorities refused him access to the site.


Hugh Naylor, a New York Times journalist who joined a tour of Deir ez-Zor upon Syria's invitation, described what he saw there.


Ahmed Mehdi, the Deir ez Zor director of the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands, guided the tour around the facility, while in the background Syrian agents supervised affairs, according to Naylor.


"“You see — around us are farmers, corn, produce, nothing else,” Mehdi told the journalists.


“The allegations are completely groundless, and I don’t really understand where all this WMD (weapons of mass destruction) talk came from,” Mehdi said, while leading his guests along the institution's main paths. “There was no raid here — we heard nothing,“ Mehdi is quoted in the New York Times article.


Damascus visit (Video: Ron Ben-Yishai. Editing: Tomer Barzide) (צילום: רון בן ישי, עריכה: תומר ברזידה)


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Other employees at the site greeted the guests, confirmed the director's statements with nods of agreement and offered the guests dried dates to show hospitality.


The guides took the journalists a laboratory, which they said was used for experimentation on drought-resistant crops. Nothing that was shown the journalists indicated nuclear activity – there were no centrifuges in plain view, Naylor writes.


Naylor notes that it wasn't only the reports suggesting nuclear activity at the site that disturbed the Syrians. Rather it was the fact that Ben Yishai managed to infiltrate Syria even though Israelis are not permitted inside the Arab state.


And to add insult to injury, Ben Yishai's article describes how he toured Syria, photographing himself at various Damascus markets and with posters depicting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah.


“I think he came in on a European passport,” said Ghazi Bilto, who said he was a graphic designer for the center. Burhan Okko, another self-described graphic designer, interrupted, saying, “It was definitely on a German passport,” the New York Times article said.


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