Cairo: Rumours of a Muslim-Christian interfaith romance sparked violence in Egypt on Saturday night which has so far claimed 12 lives and left 220 badly injured. In one of the worst communal clashes rocking the country in recent times, two churches were also set on fire by the unruly mob.

Saturday night's clashes which left 12 dead and over 220 injured were sparked by rumours here that a Christian woman married to a Muslim had been abducted and was being held in one of the churches against her will.

The unconfirmed reports, prompted a mob to march towards the Saint Menas Church in the Imbaba locality, leading to communal clashes, that claimed 12 lives.

Shooting across the neighborhood took place with people on rooftops firing into the crowd. The mob fired bombs at homes, shops and the church, setting its facade on fire.

Another nearby church was attacked by the mob in the locality, as the army and police fired tear gas shells to disperse it.

A six-story building near the Saint Menas Church was also burned down, with Muslims claiming that the Christians used it to shoot at them.

Six Muslims and three Christians were among the dead, while the religion of other three victims have not been confirmed. A curfew has been imposed from 11 am on Sunday morning and is to last for 24 hours. Patrols have been deployed by the military and the army to secure the area.

PM cancels Baharain visit

Sensing the gravity of the situation, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf cancelled his visit to Bahrain and UAE and called for an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the Muslim-Christian violence, state news agency said.

Earlier PM Sharaf had called the meeting to discuss "the regrettable events in Imbaba", Ahmed al-Saman, a cabinet spokesman was quoted as saying by the news agency.

After the meeting the Minister of Justice, Mohammad Abd-al-Aziz al-Guindi said anti-terror provisions will be applied from now "in order to strike with an iron fist" anyone who compromises on national security. The provisions dictate sentences as strict as the death penalty.

  "We are not a weak government. We are not soft wither. We were considerate because we thought people understood how critical situation the country is witnessing. But if some will take advantage of this, we will strike with an iron fist."

190 arrested

Meanwhile, Egypt's military rulers said, that 190 people arrested in connection with deadly riots will face military trial.

There are a number of versions of the story of how the clashed erupted, but all of them include Coptic woman.

The first story is that a Coptic woman married a Muslim man and was taken to the church to be preached and convinced to leave her husband. Her family then opened fire at members of her husband's family outside the church when they went to retrieve her.

The second version is that a Coptic woman was imprisoned in the church against her will after declaring she converted to Islam.