Asharq Al-Awsat-The “Hezbollah cell in Egypt” case – and the Egyptian authorities’ pursuit of its remaining members- dominated the Egyptian parliamentary session held yesterday. In an official statement read out to parliament by Egyptian Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Egyptian government stressed that it would “strike out with an iron fist at anyone who dares to seek to harm the security of the state.”
The interrogation of the defendants implicated in the “Hezbollah cell in Egypt” case continued into the early hours of yesterday morning, with 7 defendants still being questioned [by Egyptian authorities], this includes the prime suspect in the case, Sami Shehab.
One of the accused, Nasser Abu Omra, admitted to possessing explosive belts, but denied all other charges made by the Egyptian prosecution. Omra is one of the seven Palestinian’s implicated in the case, and he said that he had intended to smuggle the explosive belts [from Egypt] into the Gaza Strip. Omra also admitted to purchasing a house in Rafah, which the [Egyptian] authorities said was going to be used to store weapons.
Another defendant, Hassan Al Manakhili, admitted that the prime suspect in the case – Sami Shehab – told him to buy a boat in order to smuggle foodstuff into Palestine. A third defendant, Ehab Al Qaliyobi, admitted to being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, however sources in the group say that Al Qaliyobi is no longer a member.
Abdul Minam Abdul Maqsoud, the lawyer of a number of the defendants [in the Hezbollah cell in Egypt case] informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the prosecution’s questions are repeated [again and again] and the interrogation began at 8:30 pm and continued until 2:30 am yesterday.”
The defense team expressed its fear of the case being transferred to military court, where the verdict is final and cannot be appealed. A source inside the defense team said that “the defendants in the Hezbollah cell case may be facing the death penalty or life imprisonment if convicted by the court on charges of spying against the state, and planning terrorist operations on Egyptian soil.” The source also pointed out that “the case is facing two [different] paths; the first is that the case will be transferred to the military court which means that the defendants will face severe sentencing such as the death penalty or life imprisonment. The transfer of the case to the military courts means that there is a deliberate intention [to seek] harsher sentencing. The second [path] is to the normal courts, where perhaps the defendants will face the same fate [death penalty or life imprisonment].
Egypt has increased the number of security patrols along the border with Israel as part of its pursuit of the remaining members of the alleged Hezbollah cell, as well as increasing the police presence along the border regions. An Egyptian security source said that security cordons had been placed along the mountainous region near the Egypt – Israel – Gaza borders. The source also said that he had called for the Bedouin tribes – especially those in the Sinai Peninsula – to report the presence of any suspicious figures in the region. The source said that all of these security measures are merely precautionary, and that the Egyptian authorities do not have any specific information that those being pursued intend to enter Israeli territory. However the Egyptians authorities do suspect however that this group is hiding out in the mountainous central region of the Sinai Peninsula, although they have been unable to locate them so far.
Sheik Abdullah Juhama, President of the Central Sinai Tribes Council said “We condemn the last remarks made by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, and his attempts to violate Egyptian security and stability, especially in the Sinai region.”
In a statement yesterday Sheik Juhama said that Nasralla’s attempt to violate Egyptian security and stability is rejected by the Sinai Bedouin. Juhama said “Terrorists have no place on Egyptian soil in general, and specifically in Sinai.” He added “There is an agreement by all tribes not to allow strangers to come between them” saying that all tribes also agreed to report anybody breaking the law to the concerned authorities, as well as immediately reporting any strangers of suspicious individuals coming into the region. The tribal leader – speaking on behalf of the tribal elders in Northern Sinai – also spoke of his national pride in being an Egyptian, and his rejection of any external attempts on Egypt’s national security.
Egyptian parliament yesterday condemned the actions of Hezbollah, and rejected any attempts for the Egyptian regime to become embroiled in regional disorder. Dr. Mufeed Shehab, Egyptian Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs read out a government statement to parliament yesterday saying “This serious case which affects the national security of Egypt, and its national sovereignty calls for zero tolerance, and the protection of the state…within a legal framework.”
Shehab addressing Nasrallah during this statement said “Your [Nasrallah] acknowledgement [of the cell] is the strongest piece of evidence, do not [attempt to] justify your actions against Egypt, as Egyptian law considers these actions to be crimes of terrorism. This applies to any crimes committed on Egyptian soil, regardless whether they were committed by Egyptians or non-Egyptians, because what must be taken into account is Egyptian security, not the nationality of the offender.”
Egyptian Parliamentary Speaker, Ahmed Fathi Sorour also said that the people of Egypt would not tolerate any violation of their country’s sovereignty and security. He said “Egypt knows how to manage its affairs with vigilance and preparedness and rejects any interference in its affairs or harm to its sovereignty.” He also confirmed that Hezbollah was planning a sabotage operation that is considered a criminal act and falls under the [Egyptian] Penal Code.
Saad al-Gamal, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Arab Affairs Committee also said that “the criminal plans of Hezbollah against Egypt requires all of us, as individuals, institutions, and organizations, to stand firmly and without compromise in order to defend the dignity of Egypt and protect its territory” adding “All Egyptians, regardless of their political and party affiliation agree that ensuring Egyptian national security is the first priority for Egyptians”
The [Egyptian] Committee for Defense and National Security also strongly condemned the plans of Hezbollah in Egypt. In a statement by the Committee’s Undersecretary Amin Radi to [Egyptian] parliament yesterday he said that Egypt is impregnable against any infiltration by regional or external forces due to its history and nationalist role, and that any plots against Egypt or the Egyptian people would only serve to unite them. Undersecretary Amin Radi said that Egypt would not serve as a testing ground for Hezbollah plans, and that Egyptian security is not to be transgressed by anybody. In view of this Egyptian security authorities have tightened security measures along the border with Israel and throughout the Sinai Peninsula, in order to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, which has been ordered by Hezbollah in order to aid in their infiltration of Israeli territory.