Middle East
Egypt hunts 'Hezbollah agents'
Police search for 10 men Cairo accuses of plotting attacks.
Last Modified: 14 Apr 2009 11:15 GMT
Egyptian authorities fear suspects may try to escape north into Gaza through secret tunnels [AFP]

Egyptian police are searching for 10 alleged agents of Lebanon's Hezbollah who they believe are hiding out in the Sinai peninsula, a security official said.

Egyptian officials said on Monday that the  men were thought to have taken shelter in the town of al-Nakhl in the vast mountainous interior of Sinai, where there is reportedly little security presence.

The men are believed to be Lebanese and part of a group that Egypt says is a Hezbollah cell and accuses of plotting to attack Egyptian institutions and Israeli tourists at resorts in the peninsula.

The government has yet to provide evidence for its claims, but arrested 49 people -said to be part of the same cell - back in November.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, confirmed over the weekend that it had sent a member to Egypt who was arrested in November on charges of smuggling arms and equipment to Gaza, but denied that the group is seeking to destabilise the country.

In depth

 Timeline: Arab-Iranian relations

Tensions between Egypt Hezbollah have been running high since December, when Nasrallah accused Cairo of complicity with Israel in its siege of Gaza.

Egyptian authorities say they are afraid the suspects may try to escape north into Gaza, 200km away, through secret tunnels, or go south to the tourist resorts on the coast.

Egypt also accuses Hezbollah of providing aid to Hamas, the Palestinian group controlling the Gaza strip.

'Curious' timing

Analysts in the Middle East have said that Egypt's recent public objections to Hezbollah are an attempt to assert itself regionally and send a signal to the administration in the US.

"Egypt has been on the defensive since the war in the Gaza Strip in December and January, and on account of their continuing participation of the blockade of the Gaza strip," Moin Rabbani, a Middle East expert, told Al Jazeera.

"They are seeking to show this is not about Egyptian hostility to the Palestinians or Hamas, but really this is an Iranian attempt to seek to dominate the Arab world," he said

"The timing of this is curious given that these people were initially arrested in November."

Twenty-five of the 49 men arrested in November remain in custody.

Mufid Shihab, Egypt's minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, said on Sunday that security forced had found bomb-making equipment, including explosive belts, following the arrests.

The individuals were also planning to buy a boat to "bring weapons and ammunition from Yemen, Sudan and Somalia and smuggle them into the country", he told the Egyptian parliament.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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