By Abdus Shuman and Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Over 350 protesters were injured and 150 were arrested late Sunday when military and riot police forces cracked down on a protest outside the Israeli embassy commemorating the Palestinian Nakba.
A statement released by the health ministry said 308 of the 353 injured where treated on-site near the embassy, while the rest were transferred to hospitals. All of these were released except for six critical cases: four in Om El-Masreyyen, one in Bolaq El-Dakrour, and one in Kasr El-Eini Hospitals.
Atef Yehia Ibrahim, who was shot in the head, is in critical condition and awaiting surgery at Kasr El-Eini Hospital, a friend at the hospital said.
“Ibrahim was shot in the head while trying to protect a woman who was severely beaten by the army during the crackdown,” Sabry Mohamed Khaled, Ibrahim’s friend, told Daily News Egypt via phone from the hospital.
“He was shot in the frontal lobe and we are waiting the neurology consultant to decide about the time of the surgery, but his [the consultant’s] mobile phone is off and we cannot reach him while my friend is dying,” Khaled added.
The street leading to the embassy building was blocked by armoured vehicle. Security forces had used trucks and barricades to close off at least three main roads leading to the embassy.
State-run news agency MENA said the protesters managed to push aside barricades placed around the embassy building and attempted to storm the embassy itself to tear down the Israeli flag, which prompted the police action.
However, several protesters denied attempting to break into the building.
An official at the interior ministry said 136 were arrested, but lawyer and rights activist Ragia Omran told DNE that 150 were arrested by military police. The reason for the discrepancy in numbers wasn’t immediately clear, but both said that the military prosecution is in charge of the investigations.
“The  protesters are now held in military prison in Hikestep and were remanded in custody for 15 days pending investigation without any interrogations,” Omran said.
Protester Mohamed Effat who was briefly detained late Sunday, told DNE that tear gas and live ammunition were heavily used to disperse the crowd.
“We were around 100 people near the El-Gamaa Bridge [overlooking the embassy] when police heavily fired tear gas with military police shooting live and blank shots in the air,” said Effat.
“The shots and tear gas continued until we were arrested by military and riot police and we were severely beaten and cursed by them,” he added.
Military officers told the detainees that the Israeli flag shall never be removed, cursing the youth of the revolution while saying “enjoy military prison,” according to Effat.
Tarek Shalaby, one of the detained protesters, was arrested by military police as his mobile phone, hidden in his pocket, was live streaming the clashes and arrest.
“You can hear the shouts and screams of the detainees,” Shalaby’s sister Noura told DNE.
“We went to military prosecution to search for my brother, they told us detainees were transferred to North Giza prosecution but we finally found out that he is detained in the military prison in Hikestep and we are waiting to get permission to visit in the military prosecution.”
The demonstration outside the Israeli embassy started on the evening of the previous day, May 14, with approximately 30 protesters calling for the liberation of the Palestinian people.
Protests continued on Sunday when more joined the demonstrators. By the afternoon, Israeli flags were being burnt and some people were chanting “death, death to Israel.”
By 8 pm on Sunday, protesters had grown more rowdy with some perched on top of the gate to the entrance of the small street leading to the embassy, ignoring the barbed wire and the Egyptian army officers’ lackluster hand motions for them not to descend onto the ground. At approximately 9:20 pm, army officers fired into the air for five minutes and the crowd outside the gate dispersed, only to return once the firing had ceased.
About 20 minutes later, riot police arrived on the scene and fired tear gas canisters onto Nahdet Masr Square, where the crowds had assembled.
For the next two hours, officers continued to fire canisters onto the square, yet demonstrators were still converging outside the embassy. Some protesters were moving in waves; retreating and coming back down towards the embassy once the white mist had cleared.
Other protesters stayed near the square and the embassy. Many covered their faces with scarves so that they could, to some extent, withstand the gas. As soon as a canister was thrown, two or three protesters would either douse the can with water or throw it away from the crowd, some into Giza Zoo.
Some continued the protest by banging rocks onto metal street barriers. Islam Amin Ali, a 19-year-old student at the faculty of commerce, Ain Shams University, expressed disbelief over the use of force by Egyptian police.
“We are not declaring war on Israel; only the Ministry of Defense can declare war. … I don’t have a gun and I don’t want to shoot someone. We just want to cut the diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. … Israel is our enemy,” he said.
Others were fearful of their business and the risk of looting. The owner of a car parts store opened his shop to remove metal wheel rims from the store window opposite the embassy on the other side of the street.
One protester regained her composure inside the lobby of a building and made calls to her friends, recounting the night’s events. When asked whether there was any warning that the police would start firing tear gas, Rana Sharabasy, a 21-year-old political science student at the American University in Cairo, said army officers were seen to be carrying cans of tear gas throughout the day and so there was always the possibility that they would be used.
“There should have been more warning. … They [riot police] just started shooting. They just started the tear gas right away. I didn’t hear them say anything about the whole thing.” By her account, a lot of tear gas was initially released, approximately 15 cans, and as the night progressed, police threw more tear gas at the crowd.
Sharabasy said the use of tear gas by police was unprovoked. The siege and gate to the street leading to the embassy was removed but the protesters did not attack and most were chanting for the demonstration to remain peaceful.
Protesters gather as riot police fire tear gas after clashes in front of the Israeli embassy during a demonstration in Cairo early on May 16. (AFP Photo / Khaled Desouki)
A protester attempts to cover a smoking tear gas canister with a bucket that was fired by riot police after clashes in front of the Israeli embassy during a demonstration in Cairo early on May 16. (AFP Photo / Khaled Desouki)