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For about 10 hours, the Morsi supporters were subjected to a near-continuous barrage of live fire, writes Alastair Beach.
Cairo - As machine-gun fire crackled around the besieged Islamist encampment in eastern Cairo on Wednesday, a 12-year-old boy called Omar sat on a mattress drinking from his carton of orange juice. Just a few yards away, the bodies of 31 protesters lay on the grubby, blood-caked floor.
Many had been shot through the head and chest with high-velocity bullets; gnarled lips betrayed the agonising throes of death.
When asked how he felt to witness such scenes, the young boy - wearing Puma flip-flops and blue jeans - remained silent and appeared confused for a few moments. Then, with childlike fragility, he said very simply: “It's not very nice.”
Whatever else the Egyptian state was hoping to achieve by launching its long-awaited crackdown, the hundreds of young children who were cowering inside the besieged sit-in will not forget the ferocity of a government which has now declared war on the country's Islamists.
Egypt's leaders have unleashed a chain of events whose consequences are unpredictable. Deadly clashes were reported in provinces around the country, as police stations, government institutions and Coptic churches were attacked in apparent revenge. Scores were killed, hundreds injured.
In a sign of how deeply the crackdown will affect the political transition, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Vice-President and Nobel laureate, resigned in protest. Egypt's interim government has imposed a month-long state of emergency and night-time curfew. Security officials reportedly detained senior Brotherhood leaders, among them Mohammed el-Beltagy, whose 17-year-old daughter was killed earlier in the day.
Inside the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque, the building which lies at the heart of the east Cairo encampment, crying babies clung to their mothers as gunfire raged around them. In the centre of the prayer hall, laid out on the carpet among hundreds of women and toddlers in the stifling heat, 10 bodies had been placed side by side inside a cordon.
A little girl of about seven or eight, wearing pink trousers and a T-shirt, made her way from one side of the mosque to the other by tottering between the heads of the corpses.
“The police and the army don't understand any language except force,” said Khalid Mohsen, a 50-year-old engineer who was trapped there. “They want to kill anybody who has an opposing view.”
Given the sheer level of firepower unleashed on protesters, it is a view which many Islamists may find hard to argue with. According to witnesses the gunfire began early in the morning at around six o'clock, as security forces who had surrounded the site launched their ferocious assault. At a separate encampment in the west of the city, a similar operation was also ordered.
By late afternoon the shooting was still continuing. Heavy bursts of semi-automatic gunfire echoed around the nearby suburbs throughout the day. If there was any let-up, it was brief. For about 10 hours, the supporters of Mohamed Morsi were subjected to a near-continuous barrage of live fire.
Single sniper shots shrieked down Nasr Road, the main thoroughfare leading through the camp; sustained bursts of machine-gun fire clattered into nearby buildings; wayward rounds shredded through the labyrinthine networks of tents.
One doctor at the hospital, who gave his name only as Ahmed, said that even the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008 had not been as bad. “I was working there as a medic during that battle,” he said. “In 12 days of fighting in Gaza, there were less dead than in six hours here.”
Dr Hisham Ibrahim, the head of the Rabaa al-Adawiya field clinic, told The Independent that several hundred people had been killed.
Whatever the final tally, the constant stream of bullet-riddled, disfigured protesters meant it was impossible to store the corpses properly. Inside a room which during the previous two massacres has been used as a morgue, 42 bodies were crammed up against each other on the floor.
As the carnage unfolded and more protesters were killed, other areas were appropriated to house the dead.
Behind the stage, 25 bodies were laid out wrapped in white shawls, unrefrigerated in the sweltering August sun.
“It's a genocide,” said Dr Yehia Makkayah, a medic at the Rabaa hospital. “They want us to disappear from the country. I could never imagine that Egyptians would shoot Egyptians using these weapons.” Such was the chaos inside the hospital, a reception area on the second floor had been utilised as yet another morgue to store 26 bodies. One floor up in a tiny storeroom, two more corpses were lying in gleaming pools of fresh blood.
Corridors barely a yard wide were lined with dozens upon dozens of wounded. Luckier patients received drip feeds from a friend or relative; those who were luckier still had the luxury of a hospital bed. The floors were sticky with blood and vomit.
The sheer volume of the dead and the dying meant it was often impossible to move up and down the main staircase. Injured protesters, most of them felled by live fire, were carried up to the operating rooms.
“The army are the dogs of the Israelis,” said Mohamed Mostafa, a vet who was keeping vigil at the bedside of his brother-in-law, a 36-year-old whose spine had been shattered by a bullet. “They are not Egyptians.”
At the main morgue beside the field clinic, the mother of one victim, 16-year-old Malik Safwat, struggled to reach him through the tightly packed rows of corpses.
“Don't move that body,” said one of the morgue attendants to a volunteer trying to clear a path. “Move a lighter one.” She eventually found him, tearfully shaking his left knee from side to side as if to try to wake him up. His sister had also arrived. “My darling,” she said in a trembling voice. “Why my darling?”
By around 5pm, the security services had gained access to the hospital and were clearing everybody out into the surrounding streets. Thousands of people began filing out of the camp, as police bulldozers moved in to destroy the remaining tents.