Egyptian Security Forces Clear Pro-Morsi Sit-Ins, Hundreds Reported Dead (UPDATED)

08/14/2013 04:36 am ET | Updated Aug 15, 2013

CAIRO -- Egypt's police and military stormed a pair of Muslim Brotherhood protest sites here early Wednesday morning, leaving hundreds of protesters dead and many more wounded as violence threatened to spill across the city.

While clashes at one Muslim Brotherhood protest site extended into their 10th hour, Egypt's military-backed government declared a one-month state of emergency. Across the city there were reports of small gun battles, and churches and government buildings being burned or seized. Vigilante and neighborhood watch groups, once a fixture of post-revolutionary Cairo, were formed late in the day.

The exact number killed in the storming of the sites -- the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Nasr City and another one in Nahda Square -- was unknown, but the Ministry of Health reported a death toll approaching 300, including 235 civilians and 43 police officers. More than 1,400 people have been injured, according to Reuters.

Mohammed El Baradei, a liberal politician who had joined the military-backed government as vice president, announced later Wednesday he would resign in response to the crackdown. El-Baradei was a leading figure working within the government in recent days to try to prevent the military from taking such action.

Demonstrators have been camped out at the sites for more than a month, protesting the military's decision to remove President Mohammed Morsi from office. In that time, they have constructed sophisticated tents, a pharmacy and a large stage.

As unrest spread across Egypt Wednesday -- especially in Christian areas of the Upper Nile, where several churches reportedly came under attack from angry Muslim Brotherhood supporters -- Mohammed al-Beltagi, a leader of the Brotherhood movement, appeared on television to urge his followers to rise up against the country's military leadership. He particularly called out Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the armed forces.

"I swear by God that if you stay in your homes, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will embroil this country so that it becomes Syria," al-Beltagi said, according to Reuters. "Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will push this nation to a civil war so that he escapes the gallows."

A Brotherhood-linked media group later reported that al-Beltagi's 17-year-old daughter, Asmaa, was among those killed in the clashes.

Within two hours of the storming at 7 a.m., large crowds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters had gathered along Nasr Street, about a kilometer away from the entrance to Rabaa, where hundreds of police and army officers had gathered. Massive reinforcements on both sides kept arriving all morning.

At a staging area for ambulances, on Nozha Street just off Nasr Street, bodies streamed out of the clashes zone. By 10:30 a.m., ambulances were leaving for a hospital nearly every five minutes.

An ambulance driver told HuffPost they couldn't get closer to the clashes because the tear gas made it impossible for them to work, and they were afraid their cars would be trapped.

"Is this the democracy everyone talked about?" a man pleaded, as he watched an injured protester be placed in an ambulance. "The army shooting people in the streets? Is this what we were promised?"

Residents of the neighborhood, who have grown fatigued by more than a month of protests, gathered at the Addas Aqad intersection to chant slogans for the army -- "The people, the army, one hand" -- and swarmed as injured protesters and policemen were carried away from the sit in.

One block away, Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered to face off with the police, lighting small fires in the street and chanting, "The army, Sisi, dirty hands."

Periodically, police fired barrages of tear gas and what sounded like machine gun fire down the street toward the Brotherhood supporters, forcing them back toward El Nozha street, and into cover behind cars parked nearby.

Protesters leaving the site held up unfired rifle rounds and said, "This is our Egyptian army." It was unclear whether police were firing real ammunition or rubber bullets.

Demonstrators inside Rabaa were still holding out -- and hiding out -- as the barrage of tear gas and ammunition continued into the late afternoon. There were few signs that the injured could be moved out of field hospitals inside Rabaa, and reporters on the scene said they counted dozens of dead bodies in the makeshift morgues there.

In an alley near the clashes, a skinny 22-year-old resident in shorts and a T-shirt stood holding a white flower, staring mournfully at the scene. He declined to give his name, but said he had recently served in the army and was due for another term.

"I love the Egyptian army," the man said, "but what they are doing, killing protesters, it's against humanity."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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