The death toll from the violent clashes in Egypt has surpassed 600, according to updated figures released Thursday night.
A spokesman for Egypt’s Health Ministry told the Al Ahram website that as of late Thursday, the casualties from Wednesday’s violence totaled 638 dead and 3,994 injured.
Security sources were quoted by the AFP news agency as having said that in addition, at least seven soldiers and a policeman were killed in attacks in the Sinai peninsula, and another policeman was killed in the central city of Assuit.
In defiance of calls for restraint, Egypt’s Interior Ministry warned protesters that police officers were authorized to use lethal force to protect themselves. The ministry also promised to punish any “terrorist actions and sabotage” after at least two government buildings were burned early Thursday.
“The ministry has given instructions to all forces to use live ammunition in the face of any attacks on establishments or forces within the framework of the regulations of using the legitimate right of self-defense,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by the New York Times. “All the forces assigned to securing and protecting these establishments were provided with the weapons and the ammunition necessary to deter any attack that may target them.”
The latest violence started after security forces began to forcefully remove two protest camps in Cairo set up by backers of the deposed president, Mohammed Morsi.
In response to the violence, U.S. President Obama said Thursday that the United States "deplores" and "strongly condemns" violence in Egypt, and as a result is canceling U.S.-Egyptian military exercises scheduled for next month.
He said the United States believes the Egyptian government's "state of emergency should be lifted" and a process of reconciliation must begin.
Obama did not suspend other forms of aid to Egypt. He said saying U.S. "engagement" with the military government in Cairo will help Egypt make the transition back to democracy.
As international criticism of the bloodshed poured in, diplomats said the UN Security Council would hold an emergency meeting on Egypt on Thursday night at the request of Australia, Britain and France.
Members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have responded to the crackdown by taking out their frustrations on the already persecuted Coptic Christians.
In the past few days, there has been a spate of attacks on Christian businesses, homes, and churches. As of Wednesday morning, according to local witnesses, at least 18 churches had been destroyed, and fires and riots were continuing to spread in Christian areas.