Violence between Christians and Muslims in Egypt has left five people dead, security officials say. The fighting erupted when a street quarrel escalated into a gun battle with assault rifles.
Four Christians and one Muslim died in the violence early on Saturday, in the city of Shubra el-Kheima, just north of Cairo, officials said. Several others were reported to have been injured.
Police said the fighting began after young Muslims spray painted an Islamic institute with inflammatory symbols, leading to a quarrel among onlookers. The argument is then said to have spiraled into a full-blown gun battle, involving live rounds and automatic weapons.
The state news agency MENA quoted a Christian official as saying that assailants had also attacked a local church, setting parts of the building on fire. A Christian home and a pharmacy were set alight, police said.
The town was said to be quiet later in the day, with police patrolling the streets and some 15 people having been detained. Investigators said they were still awaiting an autopsy into the exact caused of death of the five men.
The AFP news agency reported that the dispute arose over a perceived insult by a Muslim to the cross as a Christian religious symbol. However residents in the neighborhood, Khosoos, gave varying accounts of what sparked the violence to satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera Mubashir.
'Some want to set Egypt ablaze'
The fighting was condemned by the political wing of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which called upon community leaders to intervene.
"Security authorities should take all measures to resolve the problem and religious figures should intervene to end the tension," Freedom and Justice Party chairman Saad el-Katatni said. "There are some who want to set Egypt ablaze and create crises."
Egypt's Coptic Christians - the largest Christian community in the Middle East - make up some 10 percent of Egypt's population of 85 million. Members of the community have expressed concern about their security since the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
rc/pfd (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)