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Page last updated at 15:30 GMT, Wednesday, 15 April 2009 16:30 UK

Hezbollah alleges Egypt vendetta

Israel-Egypt border on Sinai Peninsula
Egypt is under pressure to halt smuggling from the Sinai

Egypt's claim to have broken up a Hezbollah cell plotting attacks on its territory is a "baseless" revenge bid, Hezbollah's deputy head has said.

Egypt says it is holding 25 Hezbollah suspects and searching for 24 more in the Sinai peninsula.

Cairo's claims are "fabricated" to "sully Hezbollah's image", Sheikh Naim Qassem told AFP news agency.

The Lebanese political and militant group says one suspect was trying to smuggle arms into Gaza for Hezbollah.

Last week Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Sami Shihab had been trying to get military equipment into Gaza along with no more than 10 other people.

Egypt announced on Wednesday that it was holding the group on suspicion of planning "hostile operations".

Egyptian prosecutors said Hezbollah had told the men to collect intelligence from villages along the Egypt-Gaza border, tourist sites and the Suez Canal.

"It has become clear to everyone that these accusations are fabricated... and that they are worthless," Sheikh Qassem said.

He said the accusations were "politically motivated" and were being made in revenge for the Lebanese movement's stance on Egypt's support for the Israeli blockade for Gaza.

Hezbollah supports Hamas, the Islamic movement which controls Gaza.

'Maid of honour'

In December, as Israel began a three-week offensive in Gaza - with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket fire into Israel - Mr Nasrallah called on Egyptians to protest and force their government to open the border.

Hezbollah is both a political faction, with seats in the Lebanese government, and a military organisation which fought a war against Israel in 2006.

On Tuesday, in comments to the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit accused Iran of using the Shia group to gain a foothold in Egypt.

"Iran, and Iran's followers, want Egypt to become a maid of honour for the crowned Iranian queen when she enters the Middle East," he said.

Correspondents say the row reflects a wider power struggle between Sunni Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Shia Muslim Iran and its allies Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.



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