CAIRO, (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters shouting slogans in support of Hamas and Gaza Palestinians clashed with riot police in Cairo on Wednesday, and the opposition Muslim Brotherhood said several hundred of its members were detained.
“They took between 500 and 600. They were detained as they arrived at the protest area,” said Brotherhood member of parliament Mohamed El-Beltagui, who was present at the protests.
Security sources gave the number detained as between 37 and 50.
Egyptian riot police beat the protesters with batons after losing control of sections of the crowd, and the protesters, mostly Islamists, managed to push through parts of the police cordon to join others.
Some of the protesters threw objects at the police outside the Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate, which along with the nearby Journalists Syndicate is one of the few places where the Egyptian authorities regularly allow demonstrations.
Many of the protesters held up copies of the Koran and shouted: “On Gaza we will march, martyrs by the millions,” and “We are all Hamas.” Others chanted demanding the opening of the Rafah crossing, or against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “O Mubarak, how many dollars did you sell Gaza for?” they chanted, and “O Mubarak, are you with us or against us?”
Mubarak has been under pressure for helping enforce Israel’s blockade of Gaza, one of the main grievances cited by Hamas when it chose not to renew a ceasefire with Israel.
Arab ministers were meeting at the Arab League headquarters one km (half a mile) away from the protest to seek a common position on Israeli attacks which have killed more than 385 people in Gaza since they started on Saturday.
Many Arabs have been looking for Egypt, the most populous Arab country and the first to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state, to do more to end the assault on Gaza or alleviate the effects of the blockade.
Mubarak has explicitly ruled out opening the Rafah crossing in the absence of the Palestinian Authority and European Union observers, saying that to do so would entrench the de facto separation between the West Bank and Gaza, and allow Israel to relinquish its legal responsibilities as an occupying power.
Smaller protests were held in at least two Egyptian provinces, with police using force in one demonstration to disperse a group of women protesters from the Brotherhood.