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Hezbollah spy cell in Egypt found guilty of terror plots

A court convicted 26 members of a Hezbollah spy cell guilty of plotting terror attacks in Egypt. Analysts say the Lebanese militant group crossed a political red line by using Egypt as a base to send weapons to Gaza.

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Three of the accused were also charged with digging smuggling-tunnels under their homes into Gaza, and with harboring militants.

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"These are very harsh sentences. Nothing in the evidence found supports these charges" said Shehab's lawyer Essam Sultan. "They were only trying to help the people of Gaza, sending foodstuff and weapons to help them," Sultan added. Shehab was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Sultan said the defense strategy had cited historical examples, such as the French occupation of Algeria, where Egypt sent weapon shipments to Algerian rebels.

Nasrallah has angered the Egyptian regime before, when he accused it of supporting Israel's attack against the impoverished Gaza Strip last year. Observers said Hezbollah had crossed a line by forming a cell in Egypt.

A red line crossed

"This is a sovereign country with rules and laws that have to be respected," said Amr al-Shobaki, a researcher at the semi-official think tank Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, and an expert on Islamist movements.

"The message of this trial is that Egypt will not allow any playing behind its back, even to support a Palestinian resistance group. There has to be cooperation with the Egyptian security apparatus," said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University. "This is a red line," he added

However, Nafaa said that at the beginning of this trial, tensions had been soaring between Egypt and Iran, whose diplomatic ties have been severed since the Iranian revolution 31 years ago.

Now, with the Arab-Israeli peace process at a standstill, and a rightist government in Israel, relations between Egypt and Iran may be thawing, Nafaa said.

His theory may prove correct, as Egypt's foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit recently flew to Lebanon to express Egypt's solidarity in case Israel attacks again.

(Naggar is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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