By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Analysis of satellite imagery of a Sudanese munitions factory that Khartoum accused Israel of bombing earlier this week suggests the site may have been hit with aerial bombardment as Sudan claims, a monitoring group said on Saturday.
The Satellite Sentinel Project, whose founders include Hollywood actor George Clooney and the Enough Project, said it conducted a comparative analysis of DigitalGlobe imagery of the arms factory in Khartoum, where a huge explosion on Tuesday killed two people and caused a large fire.
"The imagery shows six large craters, each approximately 16 meters across and consistent with impact craters created by air-delivered munitions, centered in a location where, until recently, some 40 shipping containers had been stacked," the group said a statement.
"An October 12 image shows the storage containers stacked next to a 60-meter-long shed," it said. "While (Sentinel) cannot confirm that the containers remained on the site on October 24, analysis of the imagery is consistent with the presence of highly volatile cargo in the epicenter of the explosions."
The images by themselves cannot be taken as clear evidence that the site was bombed and provides no clues as to who might have been responsible for any such bombardment.
A huge fire broke out late on Tuesday at the Yarmouk arms factory in the south of Khartoum, which was rocked by several explosions, witnesses said. Firefighters needed more than two hours to extinguish the fire at Sudan's main factory for ammunition and small arms.
Initially, the governor of Khartoum ruled out external causes of the fire. But Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman later told reporters that four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant and Israel was behind it.
Israel neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the attack.
The poor Muslim East African state, with close ties to Iran and Sunni jihadis, has long been seen by Israel as a conduit for weapons smuggled to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, via the Egyptian Sinai desert.
It is not the first time Sudan has accused Israel of attacking it.
In May, Sudan's government said one person had been killed after a car exploded in the eastern city of Port Sudan. It said that explosion resembled a blast last year it had blamed on an Israeli missile strike.
Israel declined to comment on the May incident or the 2011 blast, which killed two people. It also neither admitted nor denied involvement in a similar incident in eastern Sudan in 2009.
The satellite images can be viewed at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/enoughproject/sets/72157631860293132/with/8126235167/
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Bill Trott)