BEIRUT: The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, has pledged its support for Hizbullah as a much publicized spat between the Lebanese group and the Cairo government deepened this week. In a statement released late on Wednesday, the Brotherhood said that Hizbullah's admission of using Egypt as a base to facilitate weapons shipments to Hamas in the Gaza Strip did not constitute a threat to national security.
Instead, the statement said, all Muslim governments have a duty to supply Palestinians with weapons to resist Israeli attacks on their territory.
The news is likely to further politicize a growing row over Hizbullah's activities in Egypt sparked by a security operation earlier this month.
Authorities in Cairo arrested 49 men accused of working on behalf of Hizbullah to plot attacks against Egyptian institutions and Israeli tourists in the Sinai region of Egypt.
The allegations prompted Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to give a televised address in which he denied planning attacks but admitted that one of the men seized by Egyptian security officials, Sami Shehab, was a member of Hizbullah who had been tasked with overseeing arms shipments to Hamas in Gaza.
However, Egyptian authorities released what they say is evidence that Shehab and a fugitive called Mohammad Qabalan were engaged in a raft of illegal activities including bomb construction.
They released pictures of Qabalan on Wednesday and said that suspects in the enquiry had admitted to recognizing him. In particular, Ayman Mustafa, an Egyptian national being held in connection with the case, is said to have admitted to being in contact with Qabalan.
Mustafa has allegedly admitted to traveling to Lebanon via Syria to receive training in countering Egyptian security measures, the Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Thursday, as further details of the "Port Said" cell emerged.
Two suspects have apparently told security services that Shehab had instructed them to set up a fish shop as a cover for their activities, but that they failed to do so because of lack of funding.
Others say they were tasked with building boats with which to transport weapons and one said that Shehab had instructed him to build a bomb out of a propane gas canister, Egyptian sources told the newspaper.
Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, emerged as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1980s and Hizbullah's support for them is seen by Egypt as part of wide-ranging attempts by Iran to spread its influence across the Middle East.
Cairo and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since shortly after the Islamic revolution in 1979, and comments made by Iranian officials that described the arrest of the Hizbullah cell as an attempt to influence the Lebanese parliamentary elections sparked an angry response from Egypt's Foreign Ministry.
Earlier this week, security officials in Cairo revealed that Shehab had traveled to the country on a false passport and suggested that Lebanese officials had been involved in a "conspiracy" with Hizbullah to carry out attacks in the country.
Cairo is demanding a full investigation into the origin of the false documents, which it says represent a "grave breach" of Egypt's security, and has said all Lebanese passports will be treated with suspicion as a result.
But Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar warned against jumping to conclusions, pointing out that the issuance of false passports "rarely happens." He said that the passport was probably issued as the result of false identification used to support the application for it.