As the new week barely got underway, yet more bloodshed and violence were reported in Egypt, this time at a pre-dawn confrontation in Cairo.
Violence erupted between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi early Monday morning, leaving 34 of its supporters dead, according to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Akhbar quotes a Health Ministry official who put the death toll at 35, including a police officer who was killed.
Reports from the scene are conflicting, as Morsi’s supporters who were holding a sit-in contend that the military fired the first shots, while the military says terrorists trying to storm the Republican Guard building fired first.
What we do know is that Morsi’s supporters have been holding a vigil outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo where it’s believed Morsi is being held by the military which detained him after ousting him from power on Wednesday.
The incident prompted the Freedom and Justice Party – the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm – to call for “an uprising by the great people of Egypt against those trying to steal their revolution with tanks.” It’s urging the international community to intervene and “prevent a new Syria” scenario.
One of the protesters tells the BBC that army forces raided the vigil at 4:00am, which is when the devout Muslims were holding their pre-dawn prayers. Witnesses also told CNN that the raid took place during the outdoor morning prayers.
“The protesters were taken unawares and the troops used live ammunition, bird shot and tear gas,” protester Alaa el-Hadidi told the BBC.
Another protester, Mahmud al-Shilli told AFP that security forces fired into the air to try to disperse the gathering, but that men in civilian clothing opened live fire.
“The thugs came from the side. We were the target,” Shilli told AFP.
In a statement to MENA, the state news agency, the Egyptian Army blamed the shooting on “an armed terrorist group” which attempted to storm the facility where Morsi is being held.
According to the army statement, an army officer was killed and others were wounded. It also reported that it had arrested 200 protesters many of whom were carrying weapons, ammunition and Molotov cocktails.
The Cairo clash follows days of violence in the wake of the military coup prompted by unprecedented demonstrations against Morsi’s rule.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has been closed for more than a week, posting a notice on its website saying that it would again not open on Monday. “There is the possibility of protests today in vicinity of the Embassy, and crowds continue to increase this afternoon in nearby Tahrir Square,” the Embassy said.
The Salafist Nour party, which is considered more hardline than the Muslim Brotherhood called Monday’s killings a “massacre.”
Morsi’s supporters have been demonstrating in cities around Egypt vowing to defend the deposed president, with dozens killed since Wednesday’s coup.
Violence reported elsewhere over the weekend included the gunning down of a Coptic Christian priest in the Sinai Peninsula, the blowing up of a gas pipeline which transports natural gas to Jordan. On Sunday, armed men attacked security checkpoints in the Sinai Peninsula near the border with Israel and Gaza. Reuters reports that one soldier was killed.