Egypt, Hezbollah in Talks to Smooth Recent Tensions

While Egyptian security forces search the Sinai Peninsula to locate more suspected Hezbollah agents operating on Egyptian soil, mediators from Arab countries are working on easing the tensions between Cairo and the Shi'ite organization.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expects Hezbollah to sign a document stating that the Lebanon-based organization regrets having made use of Egyptian soil for illegal purposes that could put the country in danger, Egyptian sources said.

Mubarak discussed the situation with Lebanon's prime minister, Fuad Siniora, earlier this week, and Egypt's ambassador to Lebanon has met with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman to convey Egypt's demands of Hezbollah.

The Egyptian government is also demanding information on anyone who has been involved in covert Hezbollah activity on Egyptian soil, whether or not they are Lebanese. Egypt wants such Hezbollah operatives to go on trial, though not necessarily in Egypt.

The dispute between Egypt and Hezbollah began with the arrest and interrogation earlier this month of some 50 Hezbollah agents accused of plotting to carry out terror attacks against Israeli tourists at resorts in the Sinai Peninsula. Unless this crisis is resolved, Egyptian experts say, it portends a verbal war between Egypt and Iran, which backs Hezbollah, and a worsening of already cool diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Egyptian opinion shapers, fanned by Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's televised admission that the main suspect was a member of Hezbollah, have said Iran uses the group as a pawn in its war with Egypt over influence in the Middle East.

Top Hezbollah figures said their operatives were plotting against Israel, not Egypt.

"We have one enemy, called Israel, and as far as we are concerned, Egypt is not an enemy," Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, was quoted as saying. "Egypt's accusations are in revenge for our position on Gaza and our demand that the Rafah border crossing be opened."