Police officer killed as 'siege' of Saudi Shia town continues

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Dozens of civilians and security personnel have died since Saudi began attempts to demolish Awamiyah's old city in May

A still from an activist video shows damaged buildings in Awamiyah after clashes between security forces and militants (TWITTER/RORI DONAGHY)
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Thursday 6 July 2017 19:35 UTC
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A police officer was killed and at least 20 others have been injured in clashes in the Saudi flashpoint town of Awamiyah.

Pro-government news outlet Al-Arabiya reported that a security officer named Abdullah Turki al-Turki died while "performing his duties" in the eastern province town.

It said that a "terrorist group" had targeted the officer who was protecting construction workers currently in the process of demolishing the historic Almosara district.

Though Saudi Arabia has claimed that the project is aimed at redeveloping the district, locals have complained of being harassed and attacked by the security services. One resident described the situation to Middle East Eye as a state of "siege".

Another former Awamiyah resident with close contacts in the town told MEE that at least 20 houses had been demolished in Almosara, in the north of the town. He said fighting had also knocked out power in much of Awamiyah.

He said he believed that Awamiyah was being punished by the Saudi government for sectarian reasons - the population of the town is majority Shia - and that it would stand as symbol of subjugation for other Saudis.

At least six security officers, six alleged militants and a number of civilians have been killed in a series of clashes and bombings this year following the beginning of the demolition operation on 10 May.

Saudi officials have claimed that Iran-backed militants have used Almosara as a "safe haven" to carry out attacks.

Footage released on social media revealed the extent of the damage incurred during fighting between locals and the security forces.

The planned "renovation" of the historic 400-year old Almosara district has been highly controversial. In April, the United Nations called on the Saudi government to halt the project, warning that it threatened "the historical and cultural heritage of the town with irreparable harm".

“Residents have been pressured in many ways, including through power cuts, to vacate their homes and businesses without adequate alternative resettlement options, leaving them at best with insufficient compensation and at worst, with nowhere to go," said the UN Special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha.

Another Awamiyah resident, speaking to MEE anonymously, said he was deeply worried about the threat to Almosara and did not trust the government's claims that it was renovating Awamiyah.

"The government doesn't want to improve the city," he said. "They mainly want to kill some men hiding inside Almosara."

Awamiyah was also the home of Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric executed in January last year for "terrorism," leading to massive protests internationally, including an attack of the Saudi embassy in Iran.

Nimr was a driving force behind protests by Shia that began in 2011 and developed into a call for equality in the Sunni-majority kingdom.

Since then, scores of activists have been arrested or killed, sometimes due to torture and execution.