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The clashes resumed later in the morning, after a few hours’ lull, but then stopped again when lines of black-clad riot police and army troops backed by armored vehicles moved in to separate the two sides at noon.

The officials said rocks, clubs and firebombs were used in the clashes. Witnesses reported hearing gunshots during the fighting, which lasted several hours. Video footage broadcast on regional television channels showed pitched battles between the two sides on residential streets close to the Defense Ministry in the Cairo district of Abbasiyah, which has emerged recently as a stronghold of Mubarak supporters and backers of the generals who succeeded him.

The rattle of gunshots could be heard in the footage, and bearded Abu Ismail supporters chanted, “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” in Arabic, as others pelted their attackers with rocks. It was not clear who was shooting. Some of the protesters carried clubs, while many wore hard hats to protect their heads from flying rocks.

The protest camp near the Defense Ministry began with only Abu Ismail supporters, but they later were joined by die-hards from various pro-democracy groups. The protesters’ number would swell to up to two or three thousands in the evenings but stayed around 1,000 during the days.

There have been unconfirmed media reports that some of the Abu Ismail supporters brought firearms to their encampment after an attack by assailants earlier this week that left one protester dead.

The security and hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Troops and police deployed in the area around the Defense Ministry did not intervene in earlier attacks there and at first did nothing to stop the killings Wednesday, leaving the clashes to continue until noon, when they moved in.

Since the weekend, Egypt’s pro-military state media have said the assailants were residents angered by the disruption caused by the protests to life in their neighborhood. But pro-democracy activists maintain that the assailants operate with the blessing of the police or the military and that they may even be on their payroll.

Wednesday’s attack came hours after the protesters outside the Defense Ministry said they had caught an off-duty army officer who came to the area to look around, an act that must have been taken by the generals as an insult to the armed forces.