Five Egyptians have been killed and eight more wounded in clashes between Christians and Muslims in a town near Cairo, according to security sources, in the latest sectarian violence in the country.
Four Coptic Christians and one Muslim were killed when members of both communities started fighting and shooting at each other in El Khusus, north of the Egyptian capital, the sources said on Saturday.
State news agency MENA put the death toll at four.
An angry crowd smashed shops belonging to Christians, residents said.
A Reuters reporter saw a burned-out Coptic day care centre and several damaged shops belonging to Christian traders.
An apartment inhabited by Muslims was also burned.
Residents said the violence broke out on Friday when a group of Christian children were drawing on a wall of a Muslim religious institute.
A Reuters reporter saw what looked like a swastika drawn on the wall, which Muslim residents said had offended them because it looked like a cross.
The situation was calm but tense on Saturday in El Khusus, where Muslims and Christians live close to each other but in separate streets. Security was tight, with police vehicles parked in the main streets.
Police detained 15 people, a security source said.
In a Christian neighbourhood dozens of angry young men gathered at noon, chanting “with our blood and soul we sacrifice ourselves for the cross”.
The crowds left after a priest came and asked them to leave to calm tensions.
Muslim leaders were quick to condemn the sectarian violence, which comes as Egypt is struggling with a severe economic crisis and high inflation after two years of political upheaval.
Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, of Egypt’s leading Islamic authority Al-Azhar, urged measures to prevent the situation from escalating and to “preserve the national character which characterises the Egyptian people, Muslims and Christians”, MENA said.
“The sectarian riots which happened in El Khusus are unacceptable and grave,” Saad al-Katatni, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, said on his Facebook website.
“There are some who want to set Egypt ablaze and create crises.”
Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader elected Egypt’s president in June last year, has promised to protect the rights of Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people.