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Originally published July 4, 2013 at 9:10 AM | Page modified July 5, 2013 at 2:15 AM

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Egypt closes Gaza border after clashes in Sinai

An Egyptian official says the country's border crossing with Gaza Strip in northern Sinai has been closed indefinitely, citing security concerns.

The Associated Press

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CAIRO —

An Egyptian official says the country's border crossing with Gaza Strip in northern Sinai has been closed indefinitely, citing security concerns.

The decision comes hours after suspected Islamic militants attacked four sites in northern Sinai, targeting two military checkpoints, a police station and el-Arish airport, where military aircraft are stationed.

The military and security forces responded to the attacks. One soldier was killed and three were wounded.

Gen. Sami el-Metwali said Rafah passage was shut down on Friday. He didn't say when it would be reopened. Some 200 Palestinians were turned back to the Gaza Strip after the order.

The clashes came two days after the military's ouster of President Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some Islamist elements have pledged to fight the military's move.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood called for a wave of protests Friday, furious over the military's ouster of its president and arrest of its revered leader and other top figures, underlining the touchy issue of what role the fundamentalist Islamist movement might play in the new regime.

There are concerns of Islamist violence in retaliation for Mohammed Morsi's ouster, and some former militant extremists have vowed to fight.

Suspected Islamic militants opened fire at four sites in northern Sinai, targeting two military checkpoints, a police station and el-Arish airport, where military aircraft are stationed, security officials said. The military and security responded to the attacks, and one soldier was killed and three were wounded, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The question of the role of the Brotherhood has long been at the heart of democracy efforts in Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak, ousted in 2011, and previous authoritarian regimes banned the group. After Mubarak's fall, the newly legalized group vaulted to power in elections, and its veteran member Morsi become the country's first freely elected president.

Now the group is reeling under a huge backlash from a public that says the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies abused their electoral mandate. The military forced Morsi out Wednesday after millions of Egyptians turned out in four days of protests.

Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, with which Morsi had repeated confrontations, was sworn in as interim president.

In his inaugural speech, broadcast nationwide, he said the anti-Morsi protests that began June 30 had "corrected the path of the glorious revolution of Jan. 25," referring to the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.

The Brotherhood charged the military staged a coup against democracy and said it would not work with the new leadership. It and harder-line Islamist allies called for a wave of protests Friday, naming it the "Friday of Rage," vowing to escalate if the military does not back down.

Brotherhood officials urged their followers to keep their protests peaceful. Thousands of Morsi supporters remained massed in front of a Cairo mosque where they have camped for days, with line of military armored vehicles across the road keeping watch.

"We declare our complete rejection of the military coup staged against the elected president and the will of the nation," the Brotherhood said in a statement, read by senior cleric Abdel-Rahman el-Barr to the crowd outside the Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo.

"We refuse to participate in any activities with the usurping authorities," the statement said, while urging Morsi supporters to remain peaceful. The Rabia al-Adawiya protesters planned to march Friday to the Ministry of Defense.

The Brotherhood denounced the crackdown, including the shutdown Wednesday night of its television channel, Misr25, its newspaper and three pro-Morsi Islamist TV stations. The military, it said, is returning Egypt to the practices of "the dark, repressive, dictatorial and corrupt ages."

A military statement late Thursday appeared to signal a wider wave of arrests was not in the offing. A spokesman, Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, said in a Facebook posting that that the army and security forces will not take "any exceptional or arbitrary measures" against any political group.

The military has a "strong will to ensure national reconciliation, constructive justice and tolerance," he wrote. He spoke against "gloating" and vengeance, saying only peaceful protests will be tolerated and urging Egyptians not to attack Brotherhood offices to avert an "endless cycle of revenge."

The constitution, which Islamists drafted and Morsi praised as the greatest in the world, has been suspended. Also, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the Mubarak-era top prosecutor whom Morsi removed to much controversy, was reinstated to his post and immediately announced investigations against Brotherhood officials.

Many of the Brotherhood's opponents want them prosecuted for what they say were crimes committed during Morsi's rule, just as Mubarak was prosecuted for protester deaths during the 2011 uprising. In the past year, dozens were killed in clashes with Brotherhood supporters and with security forces.

The swift moves raise perceptions of a revenge campaign against the Brotherhood.

The National Salvation Front, the top opposition political group during Morsi's presidency and a key member of the coalition that worked with the military in his removal, criticized the moves, saying, "We totally reject excluding any party, particularly political Islamic groups."

The Front has proposed one of its top leaders, Mohammed ElBaradei, to become prime minister of the interim Cabinet, a post that will hold strong powers since Mansour's presidency post is considered symbolic. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate who once headed the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, is considered Egypt's top reform advocate.

"Reconciliation is the name of the game, including the Muslim Brotherhood. We need to be inclusive," Munir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, a leading member of the group, told The Associated Press. "The detentions are a mistake."

He said the arrests appeared to be prompted by security officials' fears over possible calls for violence by Brotherhood leaders. There may be complaints against certain individuals in the Brotherhood "but they don't justify the detention," he said, predicting they will be released in the coming days.

Morsi has been under detention in an unknown location since Wednesday night, and at least a dozen of his top aides and advisers have been under what is described as "house arrest," though their locations are also unknown.

Besides the Brotherhood's top leader, General Guide Mohammed Badie, security officials have also arrested his predecessor, Mahdi Akef, and one of his two deputies, Rashad Bayoumi, as well as Saad el-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, and ultraconservative Salafi figure Hazem Abu Ismail, who has a considerable street following.

Authorities have also issued a wanted list for more than 200 Brotherhood members and leaders of other Islamist groups. Among them is Khairat el-Shater, another deputy of the general guide who is widely considered the most powerful figure in the Brotherhood.

The arrest of Badie was a dramatic step, since even Mubarak and his predecessors had been reluctant to move against the group's top leader. The ranks of Brotherhood members across the country swear a strict oath of unquestioning allegiance to the general guide, vowing to "hear and obey." It has been decades since a Brotherhood general guide was put in a prison.

Badie and el-Shater were widely believed by the opposition to be the real power in Egypt during Morsi's term. Badie was arrested late Wednesday from a villa where he had been staying in the Mediterranean coastal city of Marsa Matrouh and flown by helicopter to Cairo, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Mahmoud, the top prosecutor, said he was opening investigations into the killing of protesters during Morsi's rule. He ordered el-Katatni and Bayoumi questioned on allegations of instigating violence and killing and put travel bans on 36 others, a sign they, too, could face prosecution. He also took steps toward releasing an activist detained for insulting Morsi.

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