CAIRO – Weeping relatives in search of loved ones uncovered the faces of the bloodied, unclaimed dead in a Cairo mosque near the smoldering epicenter of support for ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as the death toll soared past 600 Thursday from Egypt’s deadliest day since the Arab Spring began.
World condemnation widened for the interim government’s bloody crackdown on Morsi’s mostly Islamist supporters, including an angry response from President Obama, who canceled joint U.S.-Egyptian military maneuvers scheduled for next month.
The United Nations Security Council called on both the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood to exercise “maximum restraint” and end the violence spreading across the country. Council members called for national reconciliation.
Meanwhile, violence spread Thursday, with government buildings set afire near the pyramids, policemen gunned down and scores of Christian churches attacked. As turmoil engulfed the country, the Interior Ministry authorized the use of deadly force against protesters targeting police and state institutions.
The Muslim Brotherhood, trying to regroup after the assault Wednesday on their encampments and the arrest of many of their leaders, called for a mass rally today in a challenge to the government’s declaration of a monthlong state of emergency and a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
At least 638 people were confirmed killed and nearly 4,000 wounded in the violence sparked when riot police backed by armored vehicles, snipers and bulldozers smashed the two sit-ins in Cairo where Morsi’s supporters had been camped out for six weeks to demand his reinstatement following the July 3 ouster of the democratically elected president.
The Health Ministry said 288 of those killed were in the largest protest camp in Cairo’s Nasr City district, while 90 others were slain in a smaller encampment at al-Nahda Square, near Cairo University. Others died in clashes that broke out between Morsi’s supporters and security forces or anti-Morsi protesters elsewhere in the Egyptian capital and other cities.
Mohammed Fathallah, the ministry spokesman, said earlier that the blood-soaked bodies lined up in the El Iman mosque in Nasr City were not included in the official death toll.
Inside the mosque-turned-morgue, the names of the dead were scribbled on white sheets covering the bodies, some of them charred, and a list with 265 names was plastered on the wall. Heat made the stench from the corpses almost unbearable as the ice brought in to chill the bodies melted and household fans offered little relief.
Weeping relatives filled the mosque courtyard and spilled into the streets. In a corner, a woman cradled the head of a slain man in her lap, fanning it with a paper fan. Nearby, an anguished man shouted, “God take revenge on you el-Sissi!” a reference to the powerful military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi.
Elsewhere, a mass funeral was held in Cairo for some of the 43 security troops killed in Wednesday’s clashes. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, led the mourners. The deadly crackdown drew widespread condemnation from the Muslim world and the West.
Obama canceled the joint U.S.-Egypt military exercises, although he gave no indication that the U.S. planned to cut off its $1.3 billion in annual military aid to the country. The U.S. administration has avoided declaring Morsi’s ouster a coup, which would force it to suspend the military aid.
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Obama said, speaking from his weeklong vacation in Massachusetts.
Obama said he also ordered his national security team to “assess the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship.”
Egypt’s interim government issued a statement late Thursday saying the country is facing “terrorist actions targeting government and vital institutions” by “violent militant groups.” The statement expressed “sadness” for the killings of Egyptians and pledged to work on restoring law and order.
The statement also warned that Obama’s position, “while it’s not based on facts, can empower the violent militant groups and encourage them in its anti-stability discourse.”
Egypt enjoys “full sovereignty and independence of its decision,” the statement said.
The Interior Ministry said its decision to authorize police to use deadly force came after an angry crowd stormed the governor’s office in Giza, the city next to Cairo that is home to the pyramids. Associated Press reporters saw the burning buildings, a two-story colonial-style villa and a four-story administrative office on the road leading to the pyramids on the west bank of the Nile River.
“The ministry has given instruction to all forces to use live ammunition to confront any assaults on institutions or the forces,” the statement read.
Egypt’s military-backed government also pledged to confront “terrorist actions and sabotage” allegedly carried out by Muslim Brotherhood members.
State TV blamed Morsi supporters for the arson and broadcast footage showing firefighters evacuating employees from the larger building.
The Brotherhood’s website IkhwanOnLine said thousands of Morsi supporters marched through Giza but were attacked by pro-military “militias.” It did not say how the government buildings were set on fire.
Attackers also set fire to churches and police stations across the country for a second day.