Egyptian police searched a mountainous part of the Sinai peninsula,
Monday, trying to find 13 men thought to belong to a Hezbollah cell
planning attacks against Israeli tourists. The search was launched
after authorities interrogated 49 suspects now under arrest.
The Sinai coastal region near the Israeli border, including the Red Sea resort towns of Taba and Nuweiba, is a popular destination for Israelis. An Israeli man was reportedly stabbed in Nuweiba by a Libyan worker, Monday.
Top Egyptian security officials indicated last week they had arrested and were interrogating suspects with alleged ties to a Hezbollah terror cell believed to be operating inside the country.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah confirmed that one of those arrested, thought to be a ringleader, belonged to his group, but he denied planning attacks inside Egypt.
Egyptian police say the 49 suspects include Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, Sudanese and Egyptians.
Sheikh Nasrallah sparked a row with Egypt in January when he accused President Hosni Mubarak of having given Israel a "green light to attack Gaza." He also told Egypt, in his words, to "go to hell," during a speech Friday.
The Egyptian press, quoting Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, ran the banner headline Monday, "Egyptian security is a red line which must not be crossed."
Egyptian political commentator Abdel Moneim Said of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies accused Nasrallah of smuggling arms into Egypt from Sudan.
He says Nasrallah is pretending that all he was doing was sending arms and supplies to Hamas in Gaza, which in and of itself is illegal. But the truth lies elsewhere, he argues. Why create cells in the Red Sea area, in Suez, or in Upper Egypt? It's all tied to the smuggling of arms from Sudan into Egypt.
Unconfirmed reports say Israel bombed a convoy of 17 trucks, loads with arms, near the Sudanese town of Port Sudan in January. The trucks were allegedly carrying munitions from Iran via Sudan, to be smuggled into Egypt and on to Gaza.
Paul Salem, who heads the Beirut-based Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East, thinks that Egyptian accusations against Hezbollah are part of a regional clash between moderate Arab states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Iran, which backs Hezbollah.
"It's a rather serious accusation that puts Hezbollah in a fairly hot seat, and I think it also puts Iran in a fairly hot seat," said Salem. "It comes at a significant time in the sense that we are seeing a serious rapprochement between the so-called Arab moderates with Syria and the Egyptians and Syria, as well. At the same time, we see an escalation between Egypt and Iran, with Hezbollah being the proxy."
Salem notes that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal lambasted Iran during a recent speech, indicating the country was a threat to the region. At the same time, the Saudis and other Arab states are reaching out to Syria, in hopes of driving a wedge between Damascus and Iran.