LEBANESE PRIME minister Saad Hariri has called for national unity ahead of Sunday’s mass rally on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of his father, former premier Rafik Hariri.
Mr Hariri said unity was the “most powerful weapon in our hands to face up to Israeli threats”, including daily intrusions into Lebanese air space by Israeli warplanes in violation of the ceasefire which ended the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese Shia Hizbullah movement.
“It’s not a secret that Israel has vicious intentions toward Lebanon because Israel is the enemy,” he said.
He made it clear that the government would stand behind Hizbullah, now a mainstream political party with two cabinet ministers.
In recent weeks, Israel has repeatedly threatened to strike Lebanon in response to any Hizbullah attack on Israel.
Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, a former army chief, warned that an Israeli attack on Lebanon would be “no picnic” while Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said Damascus would support “Lebanon against any possible Israeli aggression”.
In response to a statement by Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak that Israel’s army should prepare for war with Syria if efforts to resume peace talks failed, Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem warned that Israel’s cities could be targeted if Syria was attacked.
Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman retorted that Syria would lose any conflict with Israel and its regime would be toppled.
In a bid to calm tensions, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that war was not imminent. However the exchanges prompted Saudi Arabia to appeal to the international community to deal firmly with Israeli threats against Lebanon and Syria and end Israel’s “inhumane” treatment of Palestinians.
Hizbullah is unlikely to initiate a fresh conflict with Israel. The 2006 conflict left the movement’s strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs and south Lebanon in ruins and killed 1,200 Lebanese, the majority civilians, and 157 Israelis, mainly soldiers.
Israel’s devastating campaign was sparked by the seizure of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border Hizbullah raid. The movement’s secretary general, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, apologised to his countrymen for miscalculating the Israeli response to the snatch.
Dissident Palestinian factions have on occasion fired rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, risking conflagration.