Egypt's state prosecutor says authorities have arrested 49 people suspected of planning attacks in Egypt on behalf of the Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah.
A statement from the prosecutor's office Wednesday said state security police have been questioning the men and believe that several of them were collecting intelligence for Hezbollah and recruiting Egyptians to join the group. It accused them of planning attacks on Egyptian targets.
When the arrests were first reported Tuesday, Egyptian authorities said they had detained more than 40 people in connection with alleged plans to smuggle supplies to Hamas militants and other Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
A lawyer for the detainees, Montasser el-Zayat, says the people arrested include Egyptians, Lebanese and Palestinians.
Zayat told the French news agency (AFP) he believes the case was fabricated for political reasons, because of Egypt's long-standing hostility toward Hezbollah and tensions with the group's main sponsors, Iran and Syria.
Security officials said Tuesday the men detained were accused of renting or buying houses in the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border with Gaza, to use the properties for smuggling goods into the Palestinian territory.
It is not clear when the arrests were made. Zayat said on Tuesday he had been denied access to his clients.
Egypt has been under intense pressure from Israel to crack down on weapons smuggling to Hamas. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has also criticized Egypt's relations with Israel and Cairo's decision to keep the Rafah border post closed during Israel's military offensive in Gaza during December and January.
Iran is a key sponsor of both Hezbollah and Hamas, and is believed to provide both groups with weapons and money. Iran and Egypt broke diplomatic ties in 1979, after Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel and later allowed the deposed Shah of Iran into the country.
Egypt has been mediating talks between Hamas and its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, in an effort to forge a Palestinian unity government. Egypt has also mediated negotiations on a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.