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Hezbollah chief asks Egypt to stop Gaza border wall

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By Mariam Karouny

BEIRUT, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday called on Egypt to stop building a steel wall along the Gaza border that could obstruct tunnels which provide a lifeline for the blockaded enclave.

Nasrallah told a crowd of tens of thousands of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim marking the Ashura religious ceremony that Egypt should be condemned if it does not halt the wall building.

Tensions between Egypt, a predominantly Sunni country, and Hezbollah, a Shi'ite group backed by Iran, have been running high since last year when Nasrallah accused Cairo of complicity with Israel in its siege of the Gaza strip.

"In addition to the siege there has been news about (building) a steel wall..to terminate the thin veins which are giving some life and some hope to Gaza," he said.

"We call on the government in Egypt and the leadership to stop the wall and flooding the tunnels and to end the siege otherwise it should be condemned by all Arabs and the Muslims," he said.

Egypt is trying 26 men suspected of links with Hezbollah and accused of planning attacks inside the country. Hezbollah denys they had plans for attacks inside Egypt and says one of the men is a Hezbollah member and that he and up to 10 others were trying to supply military equipment to Hamas-run Gaza.

Egyptian officials have said steel tubes were being placed at several points along the 14-km (8-mile)-long border, but they did not specify their purpose.

Palestinians fear a steel barrier, deep underground, would limit or end smuggling through hundreds of tunnels operating in defiance of a three-year-old Israeli-led blockade.

Tunnel-builders said some 3,000 tunnels were operational before Israel launched a three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip a year ago, but only 150 were still functional following the conflict and subsequent Israeli air raids.

"This unjust silence over besieging a whole people should not continue regardless of the excuses," Nasrallah said.

Shortly before Nasrallah's speech tens of thousands of Shi'ite Muslim Lebanese, chanting "Death to America, death to Israel," marched in Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold to commemorate the annual Ashura ritual.

A sea of men, women and children marched in the streets of Beirut's southern suburbs carrying Hezbollah's yellow and black flags and some carried religious slogans. They beat their chests in a sign of grief over the killing of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Imam Hussein and chanted "O Hussein" and "We will never be humiliated."

Ashura commemorates Hussein, who was killed along with most of his family by Islamic ruler Yazid, who Shi'ites remember as an oppressor and murderer. Hussein's death at Kerbala in Iraq in AD 680 is a defining moment in the history of Shi'ite Islam.

(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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