Rome–Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri denied Wednesday that Hizbullah had received long-range Scud missiles from Syria and said the allegations were concocted by Israel to threaten his country.
“These accusations are reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction allegations against Saddam Hussein: they were never found, they did not exist,” Hariri said in an interview with Italy’s La Stampa newspaper.
“Israel is trying to reproduce the same scenario for Lebanon. The rumors about Scud are only a pretext for threatening my country,” he said, calling the claims “false.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres has publicly accused neighboring Syria of sending Hizbullah Scuds.
Washington summoned the top Syrian diplomat Monday to address what it called “provocative behavior” over the potential transfer of the missiles, which it said could be a threat to Lebanon and Israel.
Hizbullah, a Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shia Islamist group, is on the US terrorism blacklist but is part of Lebanon’s unity government. The group fought a war with Israel in 2006 and has strong support in mainly Shia south Lebanon.
Syria denied earlier this month that it had furnished Hizbullah with Scuds, saying Israel might be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike.
Hariri, who has frequently clashed with Hizbullah in the past, said the group had legitimately won elections in southern Lebanon and could only be disarmed via political dialogue.
Hariri and his allies accused Syria of assassinating his father and former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, in 2005.
His disagreements with Syria’s ally, Hizbullah, threatened to plunge Lebanon into a new civil war. But he has since mended ties with Syria and formed a government that includes the group.
“We have turned the page with Syria. Assad and I have decided to work together to improve our relations in respect of our mutual sovereignty. Of course, you cannot expect everything to change with one meeting, but we will manage it,” Hariri said.
Hariri said a special court set up in The Hague to investigate his father’s killing must be allowed to do its job.
A UN investigation into the assassination first implicated Syrian and Lebanese officials but later held back from giving details. The special court in The Hague has yet to indict anyone, while Syria and Hizbullah have denied any role.
Hariri accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of working against the peace process in the Middle East.
“The real problem is that Israel doesn’t want to give the Palestinians land or recognize the two- state solution,” said Hariri, who visited Rome for a meeting with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Tuesday.