Europe

Four Irish siblings the Halawas 'being held in Egypt'

Morsi supporters outside al-Fath mosque, Cairo
Image caption Morsi supporters flocked to the al-Fath mosque on Friday

It is understood four Irish citizens caught up in a stand-off at a Cairo mosque are being held by Egyptian authorities.

The three young women and teenage boy are children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Ireland's largest mosque in Clonskeagh in Dublin.

They were in the al-Fath mosque which was barricaded by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi on Friday.

It was cleared by Egyptian security forces on Saturday.

The four siblings are Omaima Halawa, 20, her two sisters Fatima, 22, Somaia, 27, and their younger brother Ibrihim, 17,

Minister of State at the Republic of Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Joe Costello, said the four are being detained in Cairo's main prison.

On RTÉ's This Week programme, the minister said the Irish Embassy in Egypt was doing everything it could to ensure their safety.

At the family home in Firhouse, south Dublin, another sister Nasaybi Halawa, said: "The latest we know is that they are in one of the jails in Cairo.

"But we do not know if they are all together or whether they have been separated - boys and girls.

"It is very hard. We just know that they are being held. We don't know if they have food supplies or water, whether they have slept or whether or not they will be released.

"If they are not released before 7pm then they will have to wait until another day because of the curfew in Cairo which prevents people walking on the streets after 7pm."

Ms Halawa said her siblings had sought refuge in a mosque because they thought as it was a holy place it would be safe.

"They phoned my father and told him they were in the mosque and that they were going to pray and afterwards would leave. But, by the time prayer time had finished they were surrounded," she said.

"The security forces surrounded them in the mosque for 12 hours and didn't give them any food or supplies and that was while the world was watching on television. Now, when they have them and no-one can see them, what are they going to do?"

The siblings have not been able to contact their family directly. It is understood their mobile phones have been seized.

Ms Halawa said her mother, who is staying with relatives in Egypt, had been contacted by a woman who had seen Omaima in one of the detention centres.

The four siblings had gone to their parents' native Egypt with their mother for a holiday at the start of the summer.

Sheikh Hussein Halawa is the Imam of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland and moved to Dublin with his family 18 years ago.

Crisis talks

Egypt's cabinet is set to discuss the crisis in the country, where hundreds have died in clashes in recent days.

The interim prime minister has put forward a proposal to legally dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood.

Its members are key supporters of Mohammed Morsi, whose ousting as president sparked Egypt's stand-off.

The interim government is continuing to crack down on protests by the Brotherhood, but more demonstrations are planned around Cairo on Sunday.

Overnight, television pictures showed protesters on the streets of Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, and in Helwan and Minya to the south of Cairo, in defiance of an overnight curfew.

On Saturday Egypt's security forces cleared the al-Fath mosque in Cairo after a long stand-off with Muslim Brotherhood supporters barricaded inside.

The confrontation at the mosque continued for most of Saturday - with exchanges of gunfire between protesters and security forces, who were cheered on by crowds outside.

The Brotherhood has called for daily demonstrations since a crackdown on its protest camps in Cairo on Wednesday left hundreds of people dead. Further clashes on Friday killed at least another 173 people across the country.

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