Heavy bursts of automatic gunfire were ringing through the streets of eastern Cairo this morning as the Egyptian authorities went to war with Islamists cowering amid the tents and alleyways of their huge protest camp in Nasr City, a suburb of the capital.
Security figures have announced they have arrested senior Muslim Brotherhood Politician El-Beltagi.
A number of leaders from the Brotherhood have also been arrested, an official announced during a broadcast.
"We have arrested a number of Brotherhood leaders but it's too early to announce their names," General Abdel Fattah Othman, a senior official in the Interior Ministry, told the privately-owned CBC TV channel.Latest estimates from the Muslim Brotherhood put the number of dead well into the hundreds.
As police helicopters hovered overhead and huge plumes of black smoke billowed into the morning sky, security forces armed with semi-automatic rifles and tear gas laid siege to the sit-in from roads surrounding the camp on several sides.
Supporters of toppled president Mohammed Morsi – who have been camped out in Nasr City for the past six weeks – crouched behind make shift brick barricades as the live rounds crackled around the surrounding apartment blocks. Others frantically prepared Molotov cocktails hiding behind piles of sandbags which mark the outer limits of the encampment.
In the hospital at the centre of the sit-in, dead bodies were being stretchered down the central staircase on their way to the basement morgue. Injured protesters were lying on the corridor floor, moaning in pain as others were carried in from the streets outside. Agonized screams filled the hallway.
“They are savages,” said Mohammed Noaman, 22, as he showed The Independenta mobile phone photo of a man with half his face torn off. “The police, the army, they are all dogs.”
A Reuters journalist also witnessed the military open fire and saw about 20 people being shot in the legs by soldiers.
Earlier estimates had put the number of civilians killed by security forces at 30, but the Muslim Brotherhood is now claiming that up to 500 are dead and 9,000 wounded.
At least two members of the security forces were confirmed to have died in the morning's crackdown. A senior Health Ministry official, Ahmed el-Ansari, said four people were killed and 50 injured in all at Nasr and a smaller camp in Cairo.