BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s foreign minister said on Monday Israel was trying to “justify another aggression” by falsely alleging there are missile sites near Beirut airport belonging to Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the United Nations last week, identified three locations near the airport where he said the Shi’ite group Hezbollah was converting “inaccurate projectiles” into precision-guided missiles.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, speaking to foreign ambassadors before taking them on a tour of the area, said there were “many statements ... affirming the possession of accurate missiles by Hezbollah”.
But he added: “This does not mean that these missiles are present in the vicinity of Beirut airport”.
Bassil accompanied the diplomats, who included Russian and Iranian envoys, and journalists on a tour of three sites near the airport, including the grounds of a top division Lebanese football team, Al-Ahed, which Israel identified as one of the sites.
In response, Netanyahu said later on Monday Hezbollah had lied to the international community. The diplomats were taken to the football pitch but not to the underground site adjacent to it where the missile factory was located, he said.
“The ambassadors should ask themselves why they waited three days until they carried out the tour. Hezbollah regularly makes sure to clean up sites that have been exposed,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Bassil, a political ally of Hezbollah, said Israel aimed to “falsify facts concerning Lebanon and to vocalize lies that carry the seeds of a threat that does not frighten us”.
Netanyahu had used the platform of the U.N. General Assembly “to justify another aggression on a sovereign country like Lebanon”.
Hezbollah, founded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in 1982, last fought a major conflict with Israel in 2006. The group has grown stronger since then, notably through its role in the Syrian war fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said last month the group had obtained precision rockets despite Israeli strikes in Syria.
The Israeli military released a video clip and photos of what it said were Hezbollah rocket building sites in Beirut.
Reporting by Beirut bureau; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem Editing by Richard Balmforth