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Hezbollah agents have infiltrated Egypt in an attempt to stir unrest and turn the country into a base from which to advance Iranian interests, an Egyptian source told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday.

The source said Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is seeking to foment instability in Egypt on Tehran's behalf so as to divert international attention away from Iran's nuclear program.

"He wants to turn Egypt into a playground like Lebanon," the source told the newspaper.

On Friday Nasrallah said Egypt was holding a member of the Lebanese Shi'ite militia who was in Egypt "working to help the resistance of Palestine."

Nasrallah said the Lebanese man, identified as Sami Shehab, was arrested Nov. 19 along with other Egyptian and Palestinian citizens on charges of smuggling arms and equipment to Gaza through the Egyptian border.

This is the first time the militant group has acknowledged Shehab was a member, although media reports in November linked him to the group.

"What he [Shehab] really did was a kind of logistic work to help Palestinian brothers in transporting men and equipment for the resistance inside Palestine," Nasrallah said.

During a live television address, Nasrallah denied accusations that Hezbollah is trying to harm Egyptian security or is planning attacks on Egyptian targets, saying such claims "are meant to sully the image of Hezbollah among the Egyptian people."

"I fully reject and deny all charges that Hezbollah was intending to launch an act of aggression in Egypt or at any part of the world," Nasrallah said on al-Manar Television.

"The Egyptian regime should be charged and condemned for besieging Gaza," Nasrallah charged. "The regime works day and night on destroying Gaza tunnels,"

Nasrallah stressed that Hezbollah has no branches outside Lebanon and was not seeking to target Arab countries.

Nasrallah portrayed Hezbollah's actions as meant solely to aid the Palestinian people, saying "if helping our occupied, battered and hungry Palestinian brothers is a crime, than I confess to this crime."

The Hezbollah leader also referred to Israel's new government, saying that the Likud-led coalition "presents a new threat to all the nations of the region."

Nasrallah's statements came after Egyptian security officials this week announced that 49 alleged Hezbollah members had been arrested. An Egyptian court on Thursday extended the suspects' remand for 15 days.

The men detained on charges of plotting attacks in Egypt on behalf of Hezbollah alleged they were tortured in custody, their lawyer said Friday.

Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsud, who said he was representing some of the 49 men whom Egypt's public prosecutor on Wednesday accused of plotting attacks on behalf of Hezbollah, said one of the men had been tortured so badly that he was sent to hospital "half-paralyzed."

Abdel-Maqsud, the director of the Cairo's Sawasya Centre for Human Rights, said the man had told him that State Security interrogators had thrown cold water over the detainees and left them naked in hyper-air-conditioned rooms for more than 24 hours.

Legal sources in Egypt said the group had received their orders to operate during another televised address by Nasrallah.

The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, considered the mouthpiece of the regime, reported that among the arrested were two employees of an Iranian television station that has offices in Cairo.

According to the report, the first attacks were to be carried out following a "code" that Nasrallah would issue on a day in December, which happened to coincide with Operation Cast Lead.

Also on Friday, an Egyptian newspaper editor-in-chief dubbed Nasrallah an "Iranian agent, funeral profiteer and even Dracula," Army Radio reported.

In an editorial published in the Egyptian daily El Gomhoria on Friday, Ali Ibrahim wrote that "Nasrallah is worse than Israel since he is trying to hurt the livelihood of the same Egyptians who supported him during the Second Lebanon War."

"The Zionists want to annihilate us because we threaten their survival, while you aim to kill us in the name of Islam, God's curse on you," Ibrahim wrote.