CAIRO -- Scores of people were killed and dozens more wounded Saturday in the worst violence in recent Egyptian history as police opened fire on supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi supporters and the government offered widely different counts of the dead. The Muslim Brotherhood, the secret organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency, claimed as many as 200 were dead, while the Ministry of Interior announced implausibly that police never fired a live round at the protesters, despite all evidence to the contrary. Health ministry officials revised the death toll throughout the day, with it hitting 80 by early Sunday. At least 792 people were injured, the ministry said.
A brief visit to a field hospital one of three treating casualties showed the brutality of what had taken place. A McClatchy reporter counted 27 dead laid out on the hospitals floor, and as she left, three more bodies arrived, adding to a frantic and horrific scene. At least three of the dead had been shot in the head, and the gaping wounds left the victims brains exposed.
Over and over, hospital workers would move a body to the ground and search the pockets for an identification card. When they found one, they wrote the deceaseds name on an arm. They then tied the bodys hands and toes together, to prevent arms and legs from flopping around as the corpse was moved. Often the workers had put a white wrap around the head to cover the gunshot wounds. Piles of national identification cards and personal belongings, like bloodied shirts and pants, were piled up nearby.
The only movement was that of doctors who seemed to jump around the corpses, reaching for bandages and the plaster needed to prepare shrouds, where the deceaseds name would be written again. One man whod been assigned to clean blood from the floor shuffled through the scene, armed with a mop and a bucket that appeared to hold more blood than water. Over and over he went over the same spot near one head, as the blood kept pouring out.
Doctors said the injuries could only have come from professional marksmen. Ebtesan Zain, a gynecologist, said she came to help her fellow doctors only to discover she was not needed everyone she encountered was dead.
Those injuries had to be done by snipers. It couldnt be anything else, Zain said. They were shooting directly in the head between the eyes and in the chest.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement said he had spoken with Egyptian Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei, and expressed our deep concern about the bloodshed and violence. The statement did not blame the military for the violence the Obama administration has declined to call Morsis ouster a coup but it said Egyptian authorities have a moral and legal obligation to respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, a reference to officials calls for an end to the pro-Morsi sit-in that has filled the streets of the Rabaa district for the past month.
It is essential that the security forces and the interim government respect the right of peaceful protest, including the ongoing sit-in demonstrations, the statement said.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed similar sentiments in a call with Egypts current strongman, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, according to a tweet by Pentagon spokesman George Little.