daily star, BEIRUT: The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, will arrive in Beirut on Saturday for talks in the wake of an Egyptian security operation that has prompted Cairo to accuse Lebanese authorities of "conspiring" with a Hizbullah cell captured in Egypt. The arrest of 49 men accused of belonging to Hizbullah reignited a bitter war of words between authorities in Cairo and the group’s chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Now Cairo appears to be trying to draw Lebanese officials into the spat.

Egyptian security authorities have claimed that the Hizbullah member accused of running the group, known as Sami Shehab, was traveling on a false passport issued by the Lebanese Interior Ministry.

Cairo is demanding that Lebanon launch an investigation into what is being described in Egypt as a "conspiracy" aimed at helping the cell to carry out attacks in the country.

Egyptian sources say that the use of official Lebanese government stamps by the group are indicative of "grave breaches" and "serious deviations" that should be investigated, the Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar pledged to investigate the matter but warned against jumping to conclusions. "This is very dangerous and it rarely happens," Najjar said. "Probably the passport was issued as a result of a fake ID." He added that it was "premature" to take an official position on the matter.

But an Egyptian official said the matter would mean that all Lebanese passports would be viewed with suspicion. "No one wants to impede the entry of Lebanese into Egypt. But at the same time [Egyptian authorities] will have to carefully examine the identification papers while getting their entry visa or entering Egyptian territories," the source said.

The capture of the Egyptian cell quickly evolved from a simple security investigation into a fully fledged international incident. Nasrallah used a televised address to deny Egypt’s allegations that Hizbullah was planning to attack targets in the country, but admitted that Shehab was a member of the organization. He declared that the Hizbullah members in Egypt had been involved in smuggling arms to Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, Iran was drawn into the dispute, with Cairo summoning an Iranian envoy, Mohammad Rajabi to the Foreign Ministry after he said that Egypt’s accusations against Hizbullah were designed to influence the outcome of next month’s parliamentary elections here in Lebanon.

Foreign Ministry official Mohammad al-Zarqani demanded to speak with Rajabi, the head of Iran’s special interests office in Egypt, after he made the comments. "Egypt will not stand silent with folded arms when confronted with such positions," a ministry statement said.

Cairo and Tehran broke off diplomatic ties a year after Islamist revolutionaries overthrew the pro-Western shah of Iran in 1979. The Egyptian government, a key US ally in the region, has since accused Iran of seeking to spread its influence throughout the Middle East through proxies. 

Cairo has become more vocal in its opposition as its internal political situation has become more precarious.

Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit said the discovery of the Hizbullah cell showed Tehran wished to make Egypt a "maid of honor for the Iranian queen."



BEIRUT: The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, has pledged its support for Hizbullah as a much publicized spat between the Lebanese group and the Cairo government deepened this week. In a statement released late on Wednesday, the Brotherhood said that Hizbullah’s admission of using Egypt as a base to facilitate weapons shipments to Hamas in the Gaza Strip did not constitute a threat to national security.

Instead, the statement said, all Muslim governments have a duty to supply Palestinians with weapons to resist Israeli attacks on their territory.

The news is likely to further politicize a growing row over Hizbullah’s activities in Egypt sparked by a security operation earlier this month.

Authorities in Cairo arrested 49 men accused of working on behalf of Hizbullah to plot attacks against Egyptian institutions and Israeli tourists in the Sinai region of Egypt.

The allegations prompted Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to give a televised address in which he denied planning attacks but admitted that one of the men seized by Egyptian security officials, Sami Shehab, was a member of Hizbullah who had been tasked with overseeing arms shipments to Hamas in Gaza.

However, Egyptian authorities released what they say is evidence that Shehab and a fugitive called Mohammad Qabalan were engaged in a raft of illegal activities including bomb construction.

They released pictures of Qabalan on Wednesday and said that suspects in the enquiry had admitted to recognizing him. In particular, Ayman Mustafa, an Egyptian national being held in connection with the case, is said to have admitted to being in contact with Qabalan.

Mustafa has allegedly admitted to traveling to Lebanon via Syria to receive training in countering Egyptian security measures, the Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Thursday, as further details of the "Port Said" cell emerged.


Two suspects have apparently told security services that Shehab had instructed them to set up a fish shop as a cover for their activities, but that they failed to do so because of lack of funding.

Others say they were tasked with building boats with which to transport weapons and one said that Shehab had instructed him to build a bomb out of a propane gas canister, Egyptian sources told the newspaper.

Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, emerged as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1980s and Hizbullah’s support for them is seen by Egypt as part of wide-ranging attempts by Iran to spread its influence across the Middle East.

Cairo and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since shortly after the Islamic revolution in 1979, and comments made by Iranian officials that described the arrest of the Hizbullah cell as an attempt to influence the Lebanese parliamentary elections sparked an angry response from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.

Earlier this week, security officials in Cairo revealed that Shehab had traveled to the country on a false passport and suggested that Lebanese officials had been involved in a "conspiracy" with Hizbullah to carry out attacks in the country.

Cairo is demanding a full investigation into the origin of the false documents, which it says represent a "grave breach" of Egypt’s security, and has said all Lebanese passports will be treated with suspicion as a result.

But Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar warned against jumping to conclusions, pointing out that the issuance of false passports "rarely happens." He said that the passport was probably issued as the result of false identification used to support the application for it.