Egypt prosecutor calls for death penalty in Hezbollah trial

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CAIRO: The prosecution in a trial of 26 alleged Hezbollah members charged with planning attacks in Egypt demanded the death sentence on Tuesday, a judicial source said.

The prosecutor made the request during a hearing at the emergency state security court trying the high-profile case, which has damaged relations between Egypt and the powerful Lebanese Shia militant group.

He called for “the harshest sentence against the defendants, the judicial source said. The trial will resume on February 20.

The men are accused of plotting attacks against ships in the Suez Canal and tourist sites, and of spying, along with other charges.

Most of the group, which includes five Palestinian suspects and one Sudanese, were rounded up between late 2008 and January 2009.

Four of the defendants, among them the alleged Lebanese ringleader Mohammed Qublan, are being tried in absentia after they fled the country.

The defendants had said in a hand-written letter obtained by AFP that they never planned attacks in Egypt but sought to help the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza, who have close ties with Hezbollah.

Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud, one of the defense lawyers, said he believed the court would not sentence the men to death if they were convicted because they did not commit any violence.

“It’s impossible. Even if we were to suppose that the charges were true, which they are not, they would have been in the planning stages, he said.

At a previous hearing, Lebanese suspect Mohammed Mansur told AFP during a court break that he and the other defendants were tortured. Police have denied the accusation.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had admitted after the arrests were publicized in April that he sent Mansur, identified by his code name Sami Shihab, to Egypt to support Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

He said the cell comprised no more than 10 people and denied they planned attacks in the country.

The trial reignited a war of words between Egypt, Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.

Egypt, which has no formal diplomatic ties with Shia Iran, accuses Tehran of backing the plot.

Iran and Hezbollah say Egypt contrived the case against the men.

Egypt had responded angrily to a speech by Nasrallah calling on Egyptians to protest, and army officers to resign, over the government’s refusal to permanently open its crossing with Gaza during a war between Israel and Hamas last winter.

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