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'People were dropping like flies'

By Patrick Kingsley

An Egyptian grieves after dozens of supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi were killed. Photo / AP
An Egyptian grieves after dozens of supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi were killed. Photo / AP

By early yesterday afternoon, there were so many corpses arriving at Cairo's Zeinhom mortuary that the street outside was blocked with a queue of orange ambulances. Inside one of them, mechanical engineer Mohamed Khamis waited with the body of his 15-year-old son, Omar, shot in the head by police.

"He will go back to school this autumn, God willing," said Mohamed, struggling to come to terms with Omar's death, his hands still covered in his son's dried blood.

Six hours earlier, both father and son had been surveying the scene of Cairo's most recent massacre. They had taken care to avoid the frontline, but suddenly they heard gunfire close by. Mohamed turned to run. "And as I turned, I felt him fall on my shoulder. I put my hand out to catch him and his head fell on my hand. I felt his crushed skull. There was blood on the floor. He was already dead."

Omar Khamis was one of dozens of pro-Morsi supporters killed by state officials in an eight-hour-long massacre - Egypt's second mass killing of Islamists in three weeks.

Egypt's Health Ministry said at least 72 people have been killed in Cairo.

In post-revolutionary Cairo, more divided than ever after the toppling of Morsi on July 3, the narrative of history is rarely straightforward. Yesterday the city was awash with claims and counterclaims about whether the bloody events had been provoked.

According to Egypt's Interior Ministry, pro-Morsi supporters, who have camped in their tens of thousands outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in east Cairo since Morsi's removal, tried to extend their camp as far as a nearby memorial. Officials said the protesters had fired live ammunition at police officers when they tried to clear the alleged new campsite, which forced the police to respond in kind.

But the protesters have a different story - that two separate pro-Morsi marches returning to Rabaa al-Adawiya found the site so crammed that they could not re-enter it. Many were forced instead to sit down outside the nearby memorial. Then police officers and armed men dressed in civilian clothing started to fire on them from a flyover - first, with teargas and shotgun pellets. Morsi's supporters, many of them from the Muslim Brotherhood, responded with rocks, fireworks and spent teargas canisters. "There must have been an injury every minute," said Mosa'ab Elshamy, a photojournalist unaffiliated with the Morsi movement, who photographed the Islamists' frontline for half an hour. "I did not see any Morsi supporters with [firearms] at this point," said Elshamy, while refusing to rule out the possibility that some may have been firing live ammunition.

A medic treating the wounded at the site said he saw police shooters target those rescuing the wounded. "Even at that time, people were still dropping like flies," said Dr Ahmed Said, a volunteer at the Rabaa al-Adawiya field hospital.

"Nobody should see what we had to see today," said Amr Gamal, a young doctor at the clinic. "The whole area was so full with bodies that we couldn't move."

Some casualties reported seeing police or army snipers firing on protesters from inside Al-Azhar University. "The injuries were very precise - which suggests they were shot by snipers," said Dr Mohamed Lotfy. "There were bullet holes in the centre of the forehead and right in the back of the skull ... They were shooting to kill."

- Observer, AFP

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