ROME, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Israeli threats of war because of Hezbollah's role in the Lebanese government is just an excuse to prepare for attacks, the prime minister said in Italy.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with Pope Benedict XVI during an official visit to Italy, Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper reports. The premier said he wondered why Israel was using Hezbollah as a pretext for aggression, as the Shiite resistance movement has a history of government involvement.
"Hezbollah participated in the government in 2007, 2008 and 2009 so why now (is Israel) raising the issue? Because Israel is looking for excuses for war," he told the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera.
Hezbollah in 2009 secured two Cabinet posts in the government that emerged from parliamentary elections in June. Beirut was criticized for a measure that gave Hezbollah the right to maintain an armed resistance in violation of U.N. resolutions. Israel, for its part, is blamed for breaking a 2006 cease-fire by daily military flights over Lebanese territory.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in a speech last Tuesday warned Israel that his forces would hit back hard if war would break out. Hariri said the threat from Israel was real but downplayed the immediacy.
"We are not afraid of those threats and I tell you with honesty that we should not live in paranoia that an upcoming war is inevitable," he added.