Egypt summoned an Iranian diplomat on Tuesday to protest Iranian criticism over a spy case linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a group backed by Tehran.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said it had called in the head of the Iranian interests office in Cairo over comments by Iranian Speaker Ali Larijani and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, which Cairo construed as interference in its affairs.
Reuters reports Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office said 25 Egyptian, Palestinian, Sudanese and Lebanese men linked to the Shi’ite Hezbollah group were being held over alleged plans to carry out attacks in Egypt.
Hezbollah said one of those held is a member and that he and up to 10 others were trying to supply military equipment to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. But the organisation denied the men had plans for attacks inside Egypt.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry statement said Larijani had described the Egyptian accusations as “ridiculous,” while Mottaki had described them as “worn and old.”
It added that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Egypt had falsely accused Shi’ites who support the Palestinians of proselytizing in mainly Sunni Egypt.
“These statement are a blatant interference in internal Egyptian affairs, and the government and people of Egypt reject entirely such interference in matters which do not concern Iran,” it quoted diplomat Mohamed al-Zorkani as saying.
“Egypt cannot, under any circumstances, accept such statements and hostile stances,” he added.
Egypt and Shi’ite Iran have not had full diplomatic relations since shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, when Iran cut ties after the then President Anwar Sadat hosted the deposed Iranian shah in Cairo.
Ties were further strained during the conflict in Gaza in January, when Tehran criticized Egypt for not doing enough to help Palestinians and for closing its border with the Strip, which Egypt shut to most traffic after the Islamist group Hamas took control of the area.
Egypt and other Sunni states, such as Saudi Arabia, are worried by what they see as the rising influence of Iran in the region. Both Cairo and Riyadh have said Iran’s power in the region is growing.