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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri
Photo: AP
Lebanon PM slams Israel defense drill
Saad Hariri says Israeli decision to launch week of military exercises 'runs counter to peace efforts... How can you launch peace negotiations with Palestinians while holding military maneuvers?'

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Saturday lashed out at Israel's defense exercises and said they ran counter to current Middle East peace efforts.

 

"Israel has to go to the negotiating table in order to achieve peace. To launch military exercises at such a time runs counter to peace efforts," Hariri told reporters in Cairo after a meeting with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.

 

"How can you launch peace negotiations with the Palestinians while holding military maneuvers?" asked Hariri, who is to travel to Washington on Sunday for his first visit as premier.

 

Israel's annual week-long civil defense exercises, which start on Sunday, are designed to prepare emergency responses to rocket strikes on Israel.

 

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai has stressed that the exercises were planned long in advance and had no bearing on the Jewish state's present relations with its northern neighbors, Lebanon and Syria.

 

As in previous years, Israel has made contact through intermediaries with its neighbors, notably Syria, to reassure them of its non-belligerent intentions, he said.

 

But on Friday, Lebanon's Hezbollah mobilized thousands of militants in southern Lebanon in response to the exercises, said an official from the Shiite group which is backed by Damascus and Tehran.

 

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 that destroyed much of southern Lebanon, largely a Hezbollah stronghold. It estimates Hezbollah has since stockpiled more than 40,000 rockets.

 

And last month, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of providing Scud missiles to Hezbollah, charges that Damascus has denied.

 

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