ISMAILIA, Egypt, Oct 7 (Reuters) Police used tear gas against hundreds of Bedouin in an Egyptian border town today after protesters pelted them with rocks, wounding three officers, police and witnesses said.
The clashes started after members of a Sinai tribe called El-Fawakhria took to the streets in the northern Sinai town of El-Arish, protesting police had not protected them against hostile tribesmen.
Fawakhria tribesmen threw stones at a government building, heavily damaging it, and attacked the local headquarters of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, ripping down and burning pictures of President Hosni Mubarak.
''I saw about 1,200 protesters throwing stones on the government building and after that damaging the National Democratic Party building,'' Khaled Abu Salim told Reuters from El-Arish.
Witnesses said a fight on Saturday between a member of El-Fawakhria and a man from the El-Tarrabeen tribe of central Sinai had triggered the incident.
Hundreds of El-Tarrabeen members, riding in trucks and carrying automatic rifles, later attacked the town and opened fire in a neighbourhood dominated by El-Fawakhria, wounding five of its members.
Many Bedouin in northern and central Sinai, who have a reputation for ignoring state rule, own guns and ammunition illegally. They say owning weapons is a tribal tradition that has become more important because of the security forces' heavy-handed behaviour.
Egyptian police regularly find tonnes of explosives, guns and ammunition hidden in Sinai, much of which they say is destined for smuggling through tunnels across the border into the Palestinian territories.
REUTERS JK RN2010