CAIRO - In a new worrying scene in Egypt, security forces have cleared a Cairo mosque, after more than 18-hour standoff with hundreds of protesters supporting deposed President Mohamed Morsi, with reports of exchange of gunfire between the security forces and the besieged protesters.
"Nobody here is safe, they are shooting inside the mosque," a woman besieged inside the mosque told Al-Jazeera satellite channel as the shooting began, BBC reported on Saturday, August 17.
The mosque is on Ramses square, the scene of the worst violence in the capital on Friday "Day of Rage" protests.
Many bodies and injured people were already in the mosque before the siege began.
Escaping the spiraling violence in the surrounding streets, hundreds of protesters said they took shelter in the Al-Fatah Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Cairo, starting from 6 pm on Friday.
Following negotiations with protesters, dozens of supporters had refused to leave, fearing for their safety.
According to some reports, besieged protesters, about 400, also demanded assurances they would not be set on by the crowds outside, armed with bats and pieces of wood, and do not risk arrest or detention before they agree to leave.
Following more than 18-hour stand-off with the protesters, gunshots were heard at a mosque, as television pictures showed exchange of gunshots around the mosque and towards the main minaret.
While security forces accused protesters of targeting them from the minaret, besieged protesters said that the entrance of the minaret was closed from the inside of the mosque.
Other protesters confirmed that the entrance of the minaret was only available from outside the mosque, which was under security forces control.
Later on, live television showed Egyptian police bringing some protesters out of the mosque; leading some and dragging others.
Before arresting them in security vehicles, mobs armed with bats and pieces of wood tried and succeeded in attacking some of them, BBC correspondent said.
News reports also said the four journalists, including foreigners, were arrested by security forces.
The besieged people inside Al-Fatah Mosque included four Irish citizens, three women and a teenager, who are children of the imam of Ireland's biggest mosque in Dublin and were on holiday in the Egyptian capital, Lebanon Daily Star said.
According to the interior ministry, 173 people died in clashes across Egypt on Friday.
The Muslim brotherhood puts the number at more than 200.
With anger rising on all sides, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi proposed the legal dissolution of the Brotherhood, raising the skates of more protests.
"It is being studied currently," government spokesman Sherif Shawky was cited by Reuters on Saturday.
"Reconciliation is there for those who hands are not sullied with blood," Shawky added.
The interior ministry said that 1,004 Muslim Brotherhood "elements" had been arrested in the last 24 hours, accusing members of Morsi's movement of committing acts of terrorism.
Two days ago the protesters' camps in Rabaa and Nahda squares were broken up, leaving at least 638 dead, according to official sources, and triggering international condemnation.
But, Youssef Talaat, a member of the National Alliance for the Defense of Legitimacy, a coalition Islamist parties and figures supportive of Morsi, put the toll at 2,600, Anadolu Agency said.
The interior ministry also said that since Wednesday, 57 policemen were killed and 563 wounded in the violence.
Despite rising stand-off, the Brotherhood said they were determined on re-instating President Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled by the army in July 3.
"Our rejection of the coup regime has become an Islamic, national and ethical obligation that we can never abandon," said the Brotherhood in a statement cited by Reuters.
Established in 1928 in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is the most powerful opposition force in the country.
For years, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned and its leaders were repressed by governments since the 1950s.
But the group did emerge as the most powerful group after the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak.
The Brotherhood won all five elections that followed the toppling of Mubarak.
The Brotherhood enjoys an overwhelmingly lay leadership of professionals with modern educations -- engineers, doctors, lawyers, academics and teachers.
The core membership is middle-class or lower middle-class.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net