Text size
related tags

Egyptian security sources said Saturday that police have detained a man they say was transporting $2 million to northern Sinai to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip to Hamas.

The man, Hassan Mohamed Hassouna, was detained in Cairo along with his driver and eight-year-old son around a week ago, the sources said. The child was returned to his family in north Sinai after spending three days in detention, they added.

The sources said Hassouna named three other men as accomplices during his interrogation.

Also Saturday, Egyptian police shot dead a Bedouin in northern Sinai on Saturday, with the man found to be driving a truck loaded with munitions and heading for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, a security official said.

The incident follows carefully timed revelations in the local press of the arrest of 49 suspects Egypt alleges are part of a Hezbollah-run ring that took orders from the Lebanese group's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

In a televised address Friday, Nasrallah denied the charges but acknowledged that one of the people arrested has links to his organization.

Egyptian security sources said Saturday's incident began when police ordered a truck carrying four Bedouin to stop at a roadblock near El-Arish. The driver failed to stop, broke through the roadblock and crashed into a police vehicle.

The four passengers tried to flee but one of them was shot and killed by the police, in what they described as an exchange of fire. The other three managed to escape.

"A Bedouin was shot and killed during an exchange of fire between police and armed men in north Sinai," an official told news agencies. "Police found a quantity of munitions in the truck and have managed to capture the other three Bedouin."

Police said the truck was carrying arms and ammunition destined for the Gaza Strip. On Friday Egyptian security forces announced that they had detained 15 people over accusations they helped make rockets destined to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via border tunnels.

According to Egyptian security sources, the suspects operated a machine shop for making rockets, which were then smuggled into the Gaza strip.

The families of the arrested Bedouin met yesterday to coordinate efforts to gain their release.

The Bedouin in Sinai consider the Egyptian regime intrusive and authoritarian, and in recent years many clashes have erupted with the security forces as the authorities try to stem arms smuggling into Gaza. This is lucrative trade for one of Egypt's poorest communities.

A local human rights activist told the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that "Sinai is in turmoil. We support security for the citizen but we are against oppression."

Egyptian security sources told Haaretz that Egypt will not allow its security to be compromised. "Whoever undermines Egypt's national security, regardless of what country he comes from, will be arrested, and we will deal with him severely," a source said.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram released further details in the investigation against the men arrested. According to the newspaper, the Hezbollah ring began activities in Egypt in 2007, with the arrival of a key figure in the Shi'ite group entering Egypt with a forged passport.

Nasrallah confirmed on Friday that a man Egypt is holding on suspicion of planning attacks is a member of the Lebanese Shi'ite movement, but denied seeking to destabilize the country.

The man, Lebanese citizen Sami Shihab, is one of 49 people with alleged links to Hezbollah being held; they are accused of plotting "hostile operations" in Egypt.

"Brother Sami Shihab is a member of Hezbollah. We do not deny it and we are not ashamed of it," Nasrallah said on the group's television station, Al-Manar.

Shihab, he added, was working to help the Palestinian military efforts against Israel. "What he was doing on the Egyptian-Palestinian border was logistic work to help the Palestinian brothers to transport equipment for the resistance in Palestine," Nasrallah said. "If helping the Palestinians is a crime, I officially admit to my crime. And if it is an accusation, we are proud of it. Everybody knows that this is not the first time Hezbollah has tried to furnish arms to the Palestinians."

Egyptian prosecutors say the arrested men had been commissioned by Nasrallah to conduct attacks in Egypt.

"All the accusations are lies and a fabrication aimed at setting the people of Egypt against Hezbollah," Nasrallah said in his address Friday night. He added that "no more than 10" people had been aiding Shihab in his mission.

"I do not know where the 50 people come from. Most of them have no links with Hezbollah," he said.

Egypt's public prosecutor ordered on Thursday that the 49 suspects be kept in custody for another 15 days for further questioning.

State media had reported that Shihab was suspected of heading a Hezbollah unit responsible for operations in neighboring countries.

Responding to Nasrallah's admission that a Hezbollah member was involved in activities aimed at aiding the Palestinians in Gaza, an Egyptian source said this was proof the Shi'ite group "wants to bring Egypt and the entire region under its ideology, which means to serve Iranian interests. Egypt is not a building without a doorman. Nasrallah had hoped to turn Egypt into something similar to Lebanon, but Egypt has proved that it is not an area in which others play."

Abdel Monem Said, who directs the Al-Ahram Strategic Studies Center, described Hezbollah's activities in Egypt as exhibiting "extreme audacity."

"We must not be silent about this. Hassan Nasrallah must pay a price for his statements and actions," he said. "He is not responsible for the Palestinian people or the Gaza Strip any more than Egypt is."