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Egyptian army fights Cairo squatters, 3 dead

CAIRO — Egyptian army troops fought a four-hour gun battle with protesters in southern Cairo on Sunday, sparked by a dispute over land on an island in the Nile, security officials said. Three protesters were killed.

The officials said the disputed plot of land on Qursayah island is owned by the armed forces but was illegally seized by residents taking advantage of the chaos that followed last year’s ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the president.

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The clashes broke out when troops moved in from the mainland to retake control of the plot. The officials say three civilians were killed and seven others wounded in the firefight on a road on the mainland across from the island. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

Troops arrested 15 protesters who had used metal barricades and burning tires to block an access road to the island, the officials said. Five soldiers were wounded by gunfire in the clashes, which took place around a mile from the city center.

A statement published by Egypt’s official MENA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying the land was first seized after the fall of Mubarak but retaken by the army soon thereafter.

About 60 civilians, mostly women, again took control of the land on Friday but were evicted early on Sunday after efforts for a negotiated settlement failed. The spokesman said the protesters opened fire first, and gave a higher arrest figure: 25 protesters.

Sunday’s violence was the first known street battle involving the army since President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first civilian and freely elected leader, took office.

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