BEIRUT - Lebanon's president on Tuesday urged rival political factions to close ranks and speed up the formation of a national unity government to face what he described as Israeli threats against Lebanon.
Michel Suleiman's plea came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would hold the Lebanese government responsible for any attacks on Israeli targets by Lebanon's Hezbollah militants.
Netanyahu warned Lebanon against letting the Iran-backed Shiite group join the new government, which has been stalled in the making for over a month. He said the government in Beirut could not turn a blind eye to Hezbollah's activities while the group sits in the Lebanese parliament and plays a major role in the country's politics.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak made an even starker warning last week, saying that in the event of renewed hostilities, Israel would "go after not only Hezbollah but the entire state of Lebanon."
Suleiman said that "the Israeli threats, repeated almost on a daily basis recently, expose the enemy government's tendentious intentions toward Lebanon."
They "call on us to work seriously to close ranks and speed up the formation of a national unity government," he said in a statement released by his office Tuesday.
The verbal exchange is the latest in an Israeli-Lebanese war of words that has escalated since a July 14 explosion at a suspected Hezbollah arms depot near the Israeli border.
Hezbollah is preparing a mass rally in Beirut's southern suburb on Friday to mark the third anniversary of its devastating 2006 war with Israel. The group's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, is expected to address the gathering through a video link and respond to the Israeli warnings.
Nasrallah said recently that Hezbollah has replenished its weapons stock since its 2006 conflict and now has more than 30,000 rockets. Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel during the 2006 war. The war killed around 1,200 people in Lebanon - mostly civilians - and 160 in Israel.
It was not immediately clear if Suleiman's plea would help speed up the formation of the government.
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has struggled to form a Cabinet following the June 7 elections in which his Western-backed coalition retained a majority in the 128-seat parliament and fended off a strong challenge from Hezbollah and its allies.
Hariri's efforts were further complicated when a key ally, Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, bolted out of the coalition. The premier designate has resumed consultations with rival factions, including the Hezbollah, after returning to Beirut Monday from a vacation in southern France. He met late Tuesday with Jumblatt in an attempt to overcome political differences.