LUXOR, Egypt: A bloody feud in Egypt's southern Aswan province between an Arab clan and a Nubian family has killed at least 23 people in two days of fighting, leaving bodies strewn on hospital floors and homes torched in its wake, government officials and witnesses said Saturday.
An Interior Ministry statement said the fighting erupted earlier in the week over the harassment of a girl, which later saw students from the two sides spray offensive graffiti on the walls of a local school. Vendetta killings are common in southern Egypt, where a perceived violation of honor can often turn deadly.
Nubian students accused members of the Arab clan of trying to destabilize the province by working for the former governments of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and overthrown Islamist President Mohammad Morsi, said Abdel-Sabbour Hassan, a Nubian activist.
A security official also said there are tensions in the community over members of the Arab Beni Helal clan, as some of them are accused of being part of an arm and drugs smuggling ring. Aswan is a way station for a smuggling ring from Sudan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to speak to journalists.
Adel Abu Bakr, a Nubian resident of Aswan, said members of the Arab Beni Hilal tribe first beat a Nubian and then shot dead three Nubians Friday, including a woman. Another Nubian was killed later that night, he said. Following their funerals, hundreds of Nubians attacked the Arab neighborhood, killing over a dozen people using mostly sticks and daggers, he said.
Health official Mohammed Azmi told private television station CBC that 23 people were killed and 12 are in critical condition. A local government statement said 31 were injured. Abu Bakr said a local Nubian community center was set on fire, and other witnesses said seven homes were torched. Ambulances failed to reach the neighborhood were the two clans live, leaving bodies strewn throughout the neighborhood.
The Interior Ministry said police officers attempted to negotiate a truce late Friday and arrested three people, but fighting resumed Saturday. Footage from the area on social media that appeared consistent with Associated Press reporting showed school children pelting a rival group, despite the presence of an armored police vehicle.
Abu Bakr said the police failed to stem the violence and called for the army to intervene. The local governor also asked for soldiers to be deployed.
"Since noon Friday, we are urging the police to intervene to separate between the two. But nothing happened," he said, adding that the police failed to deploy in the area. "Their presence would have changed the nature of this fight."
A joint statement from the two clans accused "invisible hands" of igniting the feud. In a Facebook post, military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali blamed members of Morsi's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group of trying to ignite the fighting. He did not offer evidence to support the claim. Egypt's military-backed interim government routinely blames the group for violence.
Later Saturday, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and the interior minister traveled to Aswan to meet with local leaders.