At least fifty-one people were killed in clashes between supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi and the Armed Forces around the Republican Guards headquarters early Monday morning, the Ministry of Health reported.
More than four hundred thirty-five were also injured in the violence, the ministry said.
The presidency released a statement on Monday afternoon expressing its sorrow over the deaths, appealing to all parties to exercise self-control and prioritize national security above all else. The right to peaceful demonstration is guaranteed, but protesters should stay away from military buildings, the presidency cautioned.
MENA reported that the president’s office has assembled a judicial committee to investigate the clashes that would release its findings to the public.
The army and the Islamists have each advanced a different scenario of how the clashes started.
According to the military, the confrontation began when Morsi’s followers tried to attack and storm the Republican Guards headquarters around 4 o` clock in the morning and attempted to assault officers and soldiers. In a statement to the local media, the Armed Forces called the alleged perpetrators of the attack "armed terrorists."
The army claimed that one soldier was killed in the ensuing clashes and many others were injured, of whom six are in serious condition. Two hundred people were arrested for possession of different kinds of weapons pursuant to the incident, the statement continued, and the Armed Forces firmly warned against any attempted attacks on its establishments.
Police forces reported that an officer and a conscript died during the clashes, the state-run Middle East News Agency said. “The Ministry of Interior mourns its martyrs and confirms the continuation of its efforts to confront terrorists who are trying to destabilize the country’s security," the ministry wrote in a statement.
However, those injured and their families told Mada Masr that they were simply praying when the officers at the Republican Guard headquarters suddenly ambushed them.
At one of the three field hospitals set up around Rabea al-Adaweya Mosque following the clashes, pro-Morsi protester Bilal Abdel Azeem was being treated for a bullet wound to his right arm. Covered in blood after helping carry his fellow injured protesters to seek shelter and aid in the mosque, he told Mada Masr that the violence broke out during the dawn prayer, when the Armed Forces allegedly fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, followed by bird shot and live ammunition. He claimed that police forces, soldiers and special forces jointly carried out the attack, which lasted until around 8 a.m.
“This is a fight for a religion. It is no longer a national cause. If, and when, we die, we will be martyrs,” Azeem declared.
Momen Ezz Eddin, who sustained injuries to his arm and ear, added that the tear gas was so toxic, demonstrators were unable to go back to the scene to retrieve the bodies of those who had been killed.
He accused the army of taking the dead bodies of his fellow Brothers to claim them as their own.
This was going to be his last day protesting in support of Morsi, but after today’s massacre, he would “join the protest for ten years to come if that`s what it takes,” Eddin told Mada Masr.
"This is my own blood, I`ll fight for it to the death, and my brothers will follow through,” he said.
Mourad Fouda, a doctor at the field hospital, said hundreds were injured in the attack. Injuries included shots to the head, chest, arms and legs, and both live ammunition and bird shot had been used, Fouda claimed. He also reported several cases of suffocation from the tear gas.
Saber al-Sabbahi, a civil engineer from Sharqiya who is currently being treated at nearby Nasr City Hospital for his injuries, told Mada Masr, "We were performing the dawn prayer at 3:30 a.m. Some police and army officers surrounded us from the Army Club and Salah Salem Road. We were praying in the direction of Mecca, with our backs to the [Republican Guards headquarters]. They started shooting at us from behind with bird shot. Many were injured.
"Then the police were shooting from everywhere. There were even snipers. We started protecting ourselves by hiding behind the trees," he continued.
Sabbahi recounted that the fight continued between 3:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., and showed bullets fired from Kalashnikovs.
"We were peaceful. We didn`t do anything. The army is the one who started shooting at us, and even at the ambulances trying to carry the injured and the dead," he told Mada Masr.
At Nasr City Hospital, women and children mourned their deceased husbands and fathers. Families claimed that women and children were among those dead, but that their bodies were missing; Mada Masr only saw the bodies of dead men at the hospital. The Health Ministry has denied that any women or children were killed.
In its statement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, wrote, “The human massacres that these criminals conducted against peaceful protesters sitting-in to reject the military coup against Morsi and to demand his return to power is unprecedented in the history of the Egyptian army. We hope that wise men within the military institution would stop this coup and these strange acts by the army.”
Journalist Mirna El-Helbawy watched the events unfold from her balcony overlooking Salah Salem Street. According to her account, which she posted on Twitter, the police started firing at the sit-in once dawn prayers were over. Morsi`s supporters took shelter from the onslaught at a nearby mosque, and responded by firing bird shot from atop its roof. Helbawy alleged that the police fired live ammunition at the Brotherhood members, and that the military took down the wall that they had earlier erected on Salah Salem Road to protect the sit-in.
A housewife living in a building overlooking the clashes, adjacent to the Republican Guard headquarters, told Mada Masr that she was awoken by the Morsi supporters` chants in the middle of the night.
“They were chanting for martyrdom and jihad,” she said. “The sit-in that was filled with people the night before had now become much smaller.” According to her, the sit-in had far fewer women and children at the time of the clashes.
“And then I saw tear gas thrown by the Republican Guards, and shortly afterwards [they fired] live ammunition. Something happened but I couldn’t see what it was. There was a lot of crying and shouting.
“Some of those in the sit-in broke the glass [door] of our building and hid inside. We called the army and they came to arrest them,” she claimed.
Ahmed Hussein, who watched the clashes from his balcony overlooking Salah Salem Street, also reported witnessing Central Security Forces firing tear gas at the protesters, after which soldiers began approaching the sit-in. He allegedly heard automatic weapons fired from both sides.
Earlier clashes at the Republican Guards headquarters between Morsi supporters and the army left three dead last Friday.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a statement on 3 July 2013 ousting Morsi following popular demands for his resignation.
[This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.]