Explosion and gunfire exchanged at Mosque stand-off as Egypt death toll hits 173 in two days of bloodshed

Interim government military are still trying to remove Muslim Brotherhood supporters who have seized a mosque and barricaded themselves inside

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi exchanged gunfire with security forces inside a Cairo mosque on Saturday following two days of bloodshed.

The gunmen opened fire on security forces from a second floor window in the Fath mosque after a woman wearing a niqab veil attempted to leave the mosque.

The mosque has now been evacuated and the protesters who barricaded themselves inside have been arrested, according to security forces.

Shortly before the lull after today's protests, the UK Foreign Office released a statement saying they "deplore" the violence in Egypt that left 173 people dead and over a thousand more injured on Friday.

They continued to call for "an end to violence and for a return to peaceful dialogue".

“FCO ministers remain actively engaged in support of these objectives with their regional and international counterparts. Earlier today the foreign secretary discussed the situation with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu", the statement continued.

After two days of violence and the deaths of nearly 700 on Thursday, supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist president vowed to defy the state of emergency by holding fresh protests today, after Cairo descended into the fiercest street battles the capital has seen in more than two years.

A tense stand-off  had been underway between the interim government's military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who last night seized a Cairo mosque and spent the night barricaded inside.

Independent correspondent Alastair Beach was at the al-Fateh mosque in Ramses Square where soldiers were guarding the smashed entrance. He reported hearing shots coming from outside of the compound and near the square.

Earlier, police entered the al-Fath mosque in an attempt to persuade protesters to leave, firing bullets in the air to lead groups of women out and pro-Mohamed Morsi supporters. There was an explosion inside the mosque, according to our correspondent.

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi talk with media and police from behind their barricade inside the al-Fath mosque in Cairo on 17 August  

Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has now proposed the legal dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and the government is considering the idea, a government spokesman said.

If the decision is made to dissolve the group, which was forced to re-register as a non-governmental organisation after being officially banned, it's property and assets could be frozen and seized.

Egypt's Interior Ministry yesterday announced that 1,004 "Muslim Brotherhood elements" had been arrested, with 558 of these arrests taking place in Cairo.

Army inside a room of al-Fath mosque when supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi exchanged gunfire with security forces inside the mosque in Cairo on 17 August

Protesters poured onto the streets after Friday's morning prayers to show their support for the Muslim brotherhood, in demonstrations and marches that happened across the Cairo and the rest of Egypt.

Police and armed vigilantes at neighbourhood checkpoints battled Muslim Brotherhood-led protesters, with the sight of residents firing at one another marking a dark turn in the conflict.

Mosques were transformed into makeshift hospitals and morgues for the Muslim Brotherhood, after the military were authorised to use live ammunition to protect government bu Protesters armed with weapons also fired back, sparking running street battles and chaos on bridges leading into Cairo.

Photos emerged of protesters writing their names on their arms, so they could be identified if they died.

Unlike in past clashes between protesters and police, Friday's violence introduced a combustible new mix, with residents and police in civilian clothing battling the marchers.

A member of the army points to the second floor of the mosque with a stick during clashes with supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi inside a room of the al-Fath mosque in Cairo 17, August.

Few police in uniform were seen as neighbourhood watch groups and pro-Morsi protesters fired at one another for hours on a bridge that crosses over Cairo's Zamalek district, an upmarket island neighbourhood where many foreigners and ambassadors reside.

Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. At one, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Cairo's main battleground, Ramses Square, from reaching a hospital.

Several of the protesters said they were ready to die, writing their names and relatives' phone numbers on one another's chests and undershirts in case they were killed in Friday's clashes.

At least 12 people were killed near the square as some in the crowd tried to attack a police station, security officials said. Inside a mosque off Ramses Square, where the Brotherhood urged its Cairo supporters to converge, blood-soaked bodies with bullets to the head and chest lay next to one another.

The Facebook page of the army spokesman, Col. Mohammed Ali, accused gunmen of firing from the mosque at nearby buildings. The upper floors of a commercial building towering over Ramses Square caught fire during the mayhem, with flames engulfing it for hours.

Gunmen targeted police check points and at least 10 police stations came under attack. Egypt's security forces were rocked by the country's 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak and have not fully recovered since.

In the southern province of Minya, protesters attacked two Christian churches, security officials said. At churches across the country, residents formed human chains to try to protect them from further assaults, and a civilian was killed while trying to protect a church in Sohag, south of Cairo, authorities said.

Many of Morsi's supporters have criticised Egypt's Christian minority for largely supporting the military's decision to remove him from office, and dozens of churches have been attacked this week.

Mourad Ali, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, denounced the attacks on churches, saying they ran counter to Islamic principles and were an attempt to ignite sectarian divisions.

"Our stance is clear ... We strongly condemn any attack - even verbal - on churches and on Coptic property. This holds true whether or not Coptic leaders joined in or supported the July 3 coup. This does not justify any attack on them," he said in an online statement.

Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood leader, was deposed by the military following days of mass protests against his leadership. He was accused by his critics of failing to govern inclusively and Cairo witnessed street clashes between his supporters and opponents on at least three occasions during his year in office, though the fighting was confined to key areas of the capital and not nearly as fierce or deadly as Friday's violence.

The government, bolstered by wealthy Arab Gulf states opposed to the Brotherhood, has branded the crackdown on Islamists as part of a wider fight against "terrorists".

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, whose country has pledged billions in aid to interim leaders in Egypt, said the kingdom stood by the country in its fight against "terrorism and strife" - a thinly veiled reference to the Brotherhood.

Egypt's military-backed government released a statement Friday accusing "terrorist groups" and "outlaws" of confronting security forces, which it said must "stand together against a terrorist plot." The interim Cabinet authorized police to use of deadly force against anyone targeting police and state institutions a day earlier.

Egyptian state television showed footage of armed Brotherhood supporters under the banner headline Egypt Fights Terrorism.

The Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, released a statement on Friday warning that they will not back down.

"We are not only dealing with the disbandment of a sit-in, but with the extermination of the Egyptian people to subject them to military rule with steel and fire," the group said in a statement, warning that differences will deepen.

The international community has urged both sides to show restraint and end the turmoil engulfing the nation. The European Union's foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton said Friday that the death toll over the last few days is "shocking" and that responsibility weighs heavily on the interim government and the wider political leadership in Egypt.

Additional reporting by Associated Press=

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