smuggling tunnel 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Egyptian officials have responded angrily to a recent speech by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in which he admitted that the Lebanese terror group was smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip, telling the London-based Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat that "Nasrallah wants to turn Egypt into a playground like Lebanon."
In an article published on Saturday, the officials blamed Nasrallah for "dragging Egypt into this situation" by letting his people enter Egypt "for satanic purposes."
"Egypt is not a playground in which others can play. Egypt is not a building without a doorkeeper," the unnamed officials warned Hizbullah.
The Egyptian officials reportedly went on to link Nasrallah's speech with the interests of the Iranian government.
"Nasrallah's admission and the language he used point to Hizbullah's desire to unite Egypt and the rest of the region with the Lebanese resistance movement and its solidarity with the Palestinians, under complicated international circumstances - for the mere sake of satisfying the Iranian interest to occupy the world, as [Teheran] develops its nuclear program," the officials were quoted as saying.
On Friday afternoon, Egyptian security forces detained 15 people on suspicion that they helped manufacture rockets to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip through tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border, Reuters quoted security sources as saying.
The sources said authorities had confiscated the outer shells of 60 projectiles from a metal workshop in Sheikh Zuwayed, a town in the Sinai peninsula located near the Rafah border crossing.
The detainees include the owner of the workshop and other workers and drivers who are accused of taking part in a scheme to manufacture rocket parts and send them to Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The IDF fears Hamas could use the tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border to replenish its weapon supply after a significant amount of it was destroyed during Operation Cast Lead.
Nasrallah confirmed on Friday night that his terror group has been making efforts to smuggle weapons to Hamas through Egypt.
In televised comments, Hizbullah's leader said that one of the people arrested by Egyptian authorities in a recent raid on an alleged terror cell was providing logistical aid to Hamas in Gaza.
Citing media reports at the time of the arrests, Nasrallah said a Lebanese man, identified as Sami Shehab, was arrested November 19 along with other Egyptian and Palestinian citizens on charges of smuggling arms and equipment to Gaza through the Egyptian border.
This is the first time the terrorist group has acknowledged Shehab was a member, although media reports in November linked him to the group.
"What he [Shehab] really did was a kind of logistic work to help Palestinian brothers in transporting men and equipment for the resistance inside Palestine," Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah dismissed accusations that the men arrested by Egyptian authorities had been recruited by Hizbullah to carry out attacks in Egypt, and said the allegations were aimed at inciting animosity among Egyptian people against Hizbullah.
"I categorically deny that Hizbullah has any intention to carry out attacks against Egypt's security or target personalities or Egyptian interests," Nasrallah said. He stressed that Hizbullah has no branches outside Lebanon and was not seeking to target Arab countries.
Nasrallah also rejected accusations that Hizbullah was seeking to spread Shi'ite ideology in Egypt.
Egyptian officials said authorities were holding 49 people suspected of plotting the attacks, of bidding to smuggle weapons into Gaza and of spreading Shi'ite ideology on behalf of Hizbullah.
Some 30,000 Israelis are expected to visit Sinai during Pessah, despite security warnings.
"The speed of the arrests of the criminal elements of the cell thwarted the execution of the scheme that targeted installations and tourist spots in a number of regions with the goal of disrupting public order," Egypt's general prosecutor Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud was quoted as saying in the Al-Ahram newspaper.
Mahmoud ordered the 49 suspects to be kept in custody for a further 15 days, a judicial source said. Arrests were first made in November and the rest of the group was rounded up by the end of last month, a security official told AFP.
They are suspected of membership in a clandestine organization calling for rebellion against the country's leadership, and renting homes in the Egyptian town of Rafah to smuggle weapons and contraband into the Gaza Strip, judicial sources told the news agency.
Another "official source" told Al-Ahram that Teheran was involved "in this terrorist plan" via two employees who worked at an Iranian satellite TV station in Cairo, but the source did not elaborate as to the extent or form of the involvement.
Despite Friday's declaration, on December 28 Nasrallah mandated an "operations unit official" responsible for neighboring countries to prepare to execute "hostile operations" inside Egypt, according to the Egyptian daily.
In it, he urged Egyptians to open the Rafah border crossing with their bare hands during Israel's three-week military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The call infuriated Egypt, which was also criticized by Iran, Syria and Qatar for its part in the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian state security intelligence checks found that cell members, "who were paid from the outside," received training to prepare explosives to use in their operation and rented real estate overlooking the Suez Canal to monitor crossing vessels and tourist facilities in Sinai, according to Al-Ahram's sources.
In addition, the Hizbullah leadership in Lebanon had ties to criminal elements responsible for forging passports and identity cards to facilitate transportation and to receive military training abroad, the sources told Al-Ahram.
These elements were also responsible for pushing the suspects in Egypt to carry out the operations and for organizing training courses inside the country.
The sources said the terrorist organization planned to carry out its operations at the same time that security forces would disperse demonstrations organized by the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, according to Al-Ahram.
The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper also reported on Thursday that three members of the cell - two Palestinians and a Lebanese man - were suspected of sneaking weapons from Sudan into Egypt with the goal of smuggling them into Gaza.
A lawyer for one of the suspects claimed that the members were arrested for political reasons.
Late last month, Sudan said it believed that Israel carried out air strikes on its soil in February that targeted weapons smugglers. While Israeli spokesmen have not commented on the reports, former prime minister Ehud Olmert hinted that Israel did launch the strikes, when he vowed it would hit "terror infrastructure" wherever it was found.