- (Photo: Credit: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 24 policemen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Monday, the day after police killed 36 prisoners from the Muslim Brotherhood during an attempted prison break in Cairo, as neither supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi nor the country's military leaders are willing to back down.
At least 24 policemen were killed in a grenade and machinegun attack on Monday near the north Sinai town of Rafah on the border with Israel, according to Reuters, which also said at least 850 people have been killed since the security forces cleared two of the sit-in camps of Morsi's supporters in Cairo last Wednesday.
The Brotherhood, an Islamist group that operated underground until the fall of dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak after the 2011 uprising, claims the country's military has reversed the revolution, and is calling for reinstatement of Morsi, who was ousted on July 3.
On Sunday, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported that "36 Muslim Brotherhood elements were killed during an attempt to escape." Unknown gunmen were said to have made an attempt to help the prisoners escape.
The incident took place when about 600 prisoners were being transferred to a north Cairo prison. Morsi's supporters are calling it "assassinations," and have called for an international inquiry.
Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif told CNN the prisoners seized a senior officer who went there after "a commotion" in one of the trucks. "The other officers tried to free him, and in the process, they used tear gas, resulting in 36 detainees killed," he said. The officer was seriously injured.
Apart from the prison violence, Cairo was relatively peaceful on Sunday, as the Islamists had cancelled some of their protests to avoid further confrontations with the military.
Egypt's defense minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday urged Morsi's supporters to avoid confrontations. "Egypt has room for everybody, and we are keen to save every drop of Egyptian blood," al-Sisi was quoted as saying in a televised speech. "Confrontation will not be in the interest of those who wish to confront us, because we are determined to protect Egypt and its people," he warned. "The Egyptian people are free to choose whoever to govern them, while the armed forces will remain the safeguard of the will of the people and of their choice."
The United States, an ally of Egypt, recently cancelled a joint military exercise to express displeasure over the increasing violence, but has indicated it will continue its $1.55 billion in annual aid, spent mostly on U.S.-made arms supplies, according to Reuters.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are backing Egypt's military.
However, the European Union said Sunday it will review its relations with Egypt.
The country's Christians have also come under an unprecedented attack since last week. At least 58 attacks on Christians and their property have been reported across the country since last Wednesday. At least two Christians have died in the attacks.
Attacks on Egypt's Coptic Christians, who account for at least 10 percent of the population of more than 82 million, rose after Mubarak's ouster in 2011. Attacks further grew under Morsi's leadership, and have peaked after Morsi's removal.