CAIRO (AFP) — The foreign ministry summoned an Iranian official on Tuesday after Iran criticised Egypt’s claim that it had arrested members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah for allegedly planning attacks in the country.
Foreign ministry official Mohammed el-Zarqani summoned Mohammed Rajabi, the head of Iran’s special interests office in Egypt, to express key US ally Cairo’s “absolute rejection” of the criticism, a statement said.
Strained ties between regional heavyweights Egypt and Iran, which severed diplomatic relations almost 30 years ago, have deteriorated further since Egypt accused a Hezbollah cell earlier this month of plotting attacks in the country.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit has accused Tehran of using the Shiite militant group Hezbollah to gain a foothold in the most populous Arab country, saying that Iran wished to make Egypt its “maid of honour.”
Iranian officials have said Egypt’s case against 49 suspects accused of belonging to Hezbollah and of planning attacks inside the country was spurious and an attempt to influence upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections.
Zarqani told Rajabi that “Egypt would not accept statements such as these and (Iran’s) hostile position, warning that Egypt will not stand silent with folded arms when confronted with such positions,” the statement said.
Egyptian security officials say 25 members of the alleged cell have been arrested. Official media have reported that a Lebanese commander of the group admitted to plotting attacks on resorts in Egypt.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah confirmed that the man, identified as Sami Shihab, was a Hezbollah agent and that he had been tasked with smuggling arms to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
But he denied that the cell, which he said consisted of no more than 10 members, had planned attacks in Egypt itself.
Cairo and Tehran broke off diplomatic ties a year after Islamist revolutionaries overthrew the pro-Western shah of Iran in 1979.
Iran opposed Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel and named a street in Tehran after the assassin of then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who was killed by an Egyptian Islamist militant in 1981.