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Mideast Egypt HezbollahThe 22 accused who were in the dock received jail terms of between six months and 15 years, despite calls from prosecutors for the death penalty to be imposed.

The four defendants who remain on the run, including the alleged head of the Hezbollah cell, Lebanese national Mohammed Qabalan, received life sentences.

Sentencing by the state security court, a tribunal of exception set up under Egypt’s three-decade-old state of emergency, was greeted by cries of “Allahu Akbar (God is Greater)” from the dock.

The 26 were convicted of plotting attacks against ships in the Suez Canal and tourist sites, among with other charges. Most were detained between late 2008 and January 2009.

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.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had admitted after the arrests were publicised in April that he sent a senior commander, 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 Shiite 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.

Photo: An unidentified Egyptian mother of one of the 26 suspected Hezbollah members, accused of plotting attacks on tourists and shipping in the Suez Canal and sending operatives and explosives to Gaza to help militant groups there, grieves outside Emergency State Security Court in New Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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