(CNN) — Violent protests over an anti-Muslim film bled into a third day Thursday near the U.S. Embassy in Cairo after President Barack Obama warned in a television interview that it would be “a real big problem” if Egypt fails to protect American interests in the country.
Clouds of tear gas wafted over the hulks of burned-out cars Thursday afternoon as hundreds of demonstrators battled police 300 yards from the embassy. The demonstrators threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police and chanted, “With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Prophet Mohammed.”
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Police officers and protesters who appeared to be injured could be seen being dragged away.
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Earlier, protesters tried to push through barbed wire fencing protecting the embassy and set fire to two police trucks and a car, according to Alla Mahmoud, a spokesman for the Egyptian Interior Ministry. Forces pushed back the protesters after the vehicles were set on fire.
“Forces were able to push them down toward Tahrir Square farther from the embassy street,” Mahmoud said, adding that some arrests had been made.
At least 13 protesters and six police officers were injured in the earlier clashes, Egyptian government officials said Thursday. It was not immediately clear how many may have been injured in the afternoon protests.
The clashes came amid heightened tensions at U.S. diplomatic missions in the region following Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other consular officials dead.
That same day, the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, several men scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down its U.S. flag.
The protests follow the online release of a film produced in the United States that denigrates the Prophet Mohammed.
Obama, in an interview Wednesday with Telemundo, said how the country responds to the incident will play a role in the future relationship between United States and Egypt, which ranked fifth among nations receiving U.S. foreign aid in 2010, according to U.S. Agency for International Development statistics.
“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy,” Obama told Telemundo. “They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.”
Obama said that if Egypt takes actions that “indicate they’re not taking responsibilities, as all other countries do where we have embassies, I think that’s going to be a real big problem.”
Atlantic Council analyst Michele Dunne said Obama’s comments were a clear warning to Morsy.
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“I think it was a little bit of a strange choice of words to say that Egypt is not an ally,” she said. “But I think that his purpose is to put President Morsy on notice that he really has to do what’s necessary to prevent the escalation of these demonstrations in Cairo to what we have seen, for example, in Libya.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, reluctantly echoed Obama’s sentiments.
“They have gone from a staunch ally under (former President Hosni) Mubarak to one which is a country that’s seeking its own way,” McCain said.
He said that the United States needs to have a good relationship with Egypt, but that it is understandable why many in the United States are displeased with its leaders.
“They have a pretty big army,” McCain said. “They could have protected our embassy.
On Tuesday, police and Egyptian troops formed defensive lines around the U.S. Embassy to prevent demonstrators from advancing, but not before the protesters placed a black flag atop a ladder in the American compound. Police arrested four protesters, but the failure of Egyptian authorities to take action sooner has been widely questioned.
Just after the attack, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy focused his comments mostly on the film, condemning those who produced it as violating Islamic strictures against defaming Mohammed.
“The presidency condemns in the strongest terms the attempt of a group to insult the place of the Messenger, the Prophet Mohammed … and condemns the people who have produced this radical work,” the president said in a statement posted on his Facebook page. “The Egyptian people, both Muslims and Christians, refuse such insults on sanctities.”
On Thursday, he reiterated his concern about the film in a telephone call with Obama, but he also condemned the embassy attacks.
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“Those who are attacking the embassies do not represent any of us,” he said in comments from Brussels, Belgium, where he was visiting the headquarters of the European Union.
The protests, and Obama’s comments, come during a delicate period in the relationship between the United States and Egypt under Morsy, the country’s first leader since the overthrow last year of longtime ruler Mubarak, a key Western ally.
Obama spoke with Morsy on Thursday “to review the strategic partnership between the United States and Egypt, and our ongoing efforts to strengthen bilateral economic and security cooperation,” the White House said in a statement.
During the call, the statement said, Obama told Morsy that “he rejects efforts to denigrate Islam, but underscored that there is never any justification for violence against innocents and acts that endanger American personnel and facilities.”
Morsy “expressed his condolences for the tragic loss of American life in Libya and emphasized that Egypt would honor its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel,” according to the White House statement.
The Cairo incident was not nearly as bad as the violence in neighboring Libya, where the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi killed four Americans. A pro-al Qaeda group was to blame for that attack, according to sources tracking militant groups in the region.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Morsy called on Egyptian diplomats in Washington “to take legal action against those people who seek to ruin relationships and discussions between people and countries.”