Demonstrations before the presidential palace in Cairo (File photo: Ahram)
Unknown assailants using firearms and Molotov cocktails attacked tens of peaceful demonstrators staging a sit-in before Cairo's presidential palace, leaving at least 14 injured late on Saturday. No deaths were reported.
The perpetrators torched four of the tents set up by protesters in the vicinity of the palace, which has been a prominent venue for demonstrations against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi the past couple of months.
Violence extended to surrounding streets, prompting traffic congestion for a short while before the situation was contained.
Karim El-Shaer, one of the protesters taking part in the sit-in, told Nile Live TV that around 30 "thugs" had assaulted demonstrators and fired rounds in the air to terrorize them.
He also claimed that earlier in the day, military police had tried to coax protesters into leaving but to no avail.
Meanwhile, Al-Ahram's Arabic news portal quoted an anonymous official at the presidential palace as saying that Morsi and all presidential staffers had left the palace before turmoil broke out.
"Most presidential officials knew about the incident from the media," he stated.
In an official statement, the ministry of health said 11 people were transferred to the nearby Cleopatra Hospital, while three more were taken to Heliopolis Hospital.
For its side, the interior ministry's media office said an officer and six cadets of the Central Security Forces (CSF) had sustained eye injuries caused by shotgun pellets.
CSF troops were deployed in the area later on to prevent possible re-eruption of violence. Two of the assailants were reportedly arrested.
Saturday's attack on the sit-in was not the first.
On 5 December, clashes erupted at the presidential palace after supporters of President Morsi arrived at the scene to lock horns with demonstrators. At least 10 were killed from both camps.
The sit-in was first staged mainly in protest against a temporary presidential decree that was issued in November, and for a short while put Morsi beyond legal accountability.
Protesters at the palace, who were in thousands at the time, also called for the postponement of the constitutional referendum, which eventually took place in December as scheduled and saw around 64 per cent of voter turnout endorse the national charter.
Critics say the newly-ratified constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, lacks national consensus and is not representative of all layers of Egypt's society.