Dozens Killed in Egypt as Army Cracks Down on Pro-Morsi Crowds

War once again broke out on the streets of Cairo on Wednesday, after Egyptian security forces launched a bloody effort to break up protests by supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi, leading to resignation of a key government figure.

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War once again broke out on the streets of Cairo on Wednesday, after Egyptian security forces launched a bloody effort to break up protests by supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi. Unconfirmed reports already put the death toll in the hundreds as heavily armed police and military forces converged on makeshift camps set up by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters, using tear gas, gunfire, and heavy vehicles to disperse the growing crowds. In response, the scattered demonstrators spread out across the city, fighting back with stones, bottles, and some small firearms, while others have set fire to churches and other buildings.

Both Al Jazeera and the BBC have ongoing live TV coverage and we'll continue to update this story as it develops throughout the day. Go to the bottom of this post for the latest. (Photo: AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)

Officially, the Egyptian health ministry says 13 people have been killed, but Muslim Brotherhood officials put the number as high as 600. (As of noon ET, the official death toll stands at 149 killed, and 900 wounded.) Images posted online by reporters (Warning: photos are graphic) and other eye witnesses appear to show at least several dozen dead bodies and the number of wounded and killed is certainly much higher.

The chaos began around dawn, when armored security vehicles moved into Cairo's Nahda Square, destroying one of two growing tent cities where pro-Morsi demonstrators had been camped for nearly six weeks. (Al Jazeera has posted annotated maps of the main protest sites.) Egyptian officials say the Nahda camp was completely cleared out, but photographers for AFP captured grisly images of burned corpses at the site.

Security forces later moved in on the second, larger camp outside the Rabba al-Adawia mosque on the other side of the city. Protesters there put up a stronger resistance, leading a siege of the square that is still ongoing. Police used tear gas, armored vehicles, and bulldozers to try and disperse the crowd, but several reporters on scene also report heavy sniper fire from nearby rooftops. Reporter Bel Trew tweets that anyone approaching the site is being fired upon, and continuous shooting with live ammunition has kept the protesters pinned down.

Protesters, journalists, and even medics tending to the wounded have been hit. The United Arab Emirates newspaper XPress, says that one of their reporters, Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, was killed by sniper fire, as was a cameraman for Sky TV.

Government officials had been threatening for more than a week to break up the sit-in demonstrations, as Muslim Brotherhood supporters continue to call for the reinstatement of President Mohammed Morsi, who was arrested by the military and removed from power about six weeks ago. On Wednesday morning, they announced that several more MB leaders were arrested. In addition, all train services into Cairo have been suspended, roads all over the city have been blocked to prevent new protesters from joining in, and power to the area surrounding the camps has been shut down.

There have been two previous violent outbursts directed against the pro-Morsi factions, but today's attacks appear to be the most violent yet and one that won't be ending anytime soon. Police have also battled pro-Morsi crowds in the cities of Minya and Assiut. In response to the crackdown, many Muslim Brotherhood supporters have also lashed out the Egypt's Coptic Christian community, setting fire to several churches, both in Cairo and in other cities.

The interim Egyptian cabinet praised the security forces for their operations this morning, and in a statement on state TV claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for the violence. A statement announcing the clearing camps, according to the BBC, claimed that the military "will provide safe exit for protesters and will not pursue them, except those who are wanted by prosecutors. The ministry is keen not to shed any Egyptian blood." However, reporters on the ground reporters hundreds of arrests and anyone approaching the protests areas is being shot at.

More photos are below:

Riot police vehicles fire tear gas at members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, around Cairo University and Nahdet Misr Square, where they are camping in Giza, south of Cairo August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

As 4:00 p.m. local time, the government has declared a one-month long state of emergency. Meanwhile, a bystander captured video footage of the moment captured in the photo above, when an armored personnel carrier was thrown off the side of a bridge.

UPDATE (11:50 a.m. ET): Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition leader who was appointed as interim Vice President after Morsi's ouster, has resigned his post in the wake of the violence. In a statement he says the "course" of the Revolution "has been deviated from," from but still blames "groups taking religion as a screen" for causing "division among the people." Al Jazeera has the full text of the statement.

UPDATE (2:00 p.m. ET): The United States (though a statement by the Deputy White House Press Secretary) condemned the violence in Egypt and says they opposed the return to emergency law. "The world is watching what is happening in Cairo. We urge the government of Egypt - and all parties in Egypt - to refrain from violence and resolve their differences peacefully."

The Washington Post blasted the weak response, saying "This refusal to take a firm stand against massive violations of human rights is as self-defeating for the United States as it is unconscionable. Continued U.S. support for the Egyptian military is helping to push the country toward a new dictatorship rather than a restored democracy."

UPDATE (3:11 p.m. ET): According to the AP, the Egyptian military says 43 policemen were killed while attempting to forcibly remove pro-Morsi protesters:

The military and the Muslim Brotherhood (who make up a large chunk of the pro-Mosri protesters) disagree on the death toll so far: the military's toll was just under 150 as of noon, while the Muslim Brotherhood says over 2,000 were killed.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): The Washington Post's Abigail Hauslohner was caught in the Egypt violence today. Her eyewitness account, which begins about an hour after the confrontation started, describes the streets around the protest camps as a "war zone"

Violence was spilling over into the side streets. Police carried a wounded colleague past us. A police officer beat a teenager over the head with a handgun before hauling the child away. A woman implored a police officer not to kill protesters as they shoved back a man who, through tears, said he was trying to get to his little sister, who was trapped inside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

A police officer threatened to shoot Hauslohner and her colleagues if he saw them again at the site. Soon after, they ended up trapped between the police and the protesters:

The rapid fire of automatic guns was echoing between buildings as we crouched with neighborhood residents against a wall. By 11 a.m., a bullet whistled too close, directly over our heads. I have no idea where it came from. At times, it sounded like the gunfire was coming from all directions, from side streets and the towering apartment blocks.

Sharaf, Mansour and I dropped to the pavement and crawled downhill into a low alley shielded on two sides from the street. We lay there with two young Egyptian reporters as barrage after barrage of gunfire resounded a few hundred yards away, where police appeared to be clashing with protesters.

Her full account is here. Hauslohner reports that the violence calmed enough for them to move out of the fray by noon.

UPDATE 3:58 p.m.: As the military's official death toll rises to 278, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the violence and return to emergency law in Egypt today. He opened:

The United States strongly condemns today’s violence and bloodshed across Egypt. It’s a serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian’s people’s hopes for a transition towards democracy and inclusion. In the past week, at every occasion, perhaps even more than the past week, we and others have urged the government to respect the rights of free assembly and of free expression, and we have also urged all parties to resolve this impasse peacefully and underscored that demonstrators should avoid violence and incitement.

Today’s events are deplorable and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion, and genuine democracy. Egyptians inside and outside of the government need to take a step back. They need to calm the situation and avoid further loss of life. We also strongly oppose a return to a state of emergency law and we call on the government to respect basic human rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law. And we believe that the state of emergency should end as soon as possible.

The U.S.'s aid policy towards Egypt, however, is still under review. The full remarks are here.

UPDATE: 5:53 p.m.: One of the journalists killed in today's clashes exchanged text messages with her mother shortly before her death. Here's the account from The National:

On one of her final texts to her mother, Habiba said the mosque she was in had been turned into a field hospital.

“Only journalists were allowed to remain in the building. I’m supposed to cover the monument in case the battle starts,” she wrote.

She later told her mother: “It’s very cold here and I’m shivering. The crowds are massive and on high alert. Pray for us mother.”

Her last message said she was heading to a nearby platform.

Read the full story here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.