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Egypt detains 24 Muslim Brotherhood members

Police raid homes of five senior group members at dawn

Egyptian police detained 24 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood on Saturday, sources from the outlawed group and the Interior Ministry said.

The arrests come a day after protests organized by the Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, in support of Palestinians protesting in Jerusalem against perceived attempts by Jewish religious activists to enter a holy site in the city. The group won roughly a fifth of seats in the lower house of parliament in 2005, but Egyptian authorities have since obstructed its efforts to further its electoral gains in votes for municipal councils or parliament's upper house.

Police raided the homes of five senior Brotherhood members in and around the Nile delta city of Damanhour and detained them at dawn, a Brotherhood source in the Beheira province said.

Two other Brotherhood sources said 16 members of the group were detained in Sharqiya province, also in the delta, and three in the Suez province further east.

An Interior Ministry source confirmed the detentions and said those held had been organizing demonstrations without the ministry's permission.

The Brotherhood said on its website that the arrests in Sharqiya were a direct result of more than 120 rallies in that province involving 20,000 people and organized by the group to "demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians and to voice anger at the barbaric measures" of Israeli police in the past week.

Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank observed a general strike on Friday called by the Palestinian Authority after clashes at the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque two weeks ago. Egypt rounded up hundreds of Brotherhood members in January during Israel's assault on Gaza, when the group brought thousands onto the streets in a campaign supporting Gaza's Hamas rulers, with which it shares historical and ideological ties.

The Brotherhood, which the government has banned but allows to operate relatively openly, seeks an Islamic state through democratic means. It is one of the largest and oldest Islamist groups in the world, and has eschewed violence for decades.