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Saudi soldier killed, another wounded in restive Qatif province

Numerous people have died in recent clashes as tensions mount between Qatif's Shia population and the security services
Saudi Shiite men hold placards bearing portraits of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr during a protest on 8 January 2016 in the eastern coastal city of Qatif (AFP)

A Saudi soldier was killed and another was wounded in a shooting attack on their patrol vehicle in the kingdom's Qatif province, the interior ministry said on Friday, calling it a "terrorist crime".

The soldier was killed by gunfire on Thursday evening on the corniche of al-Nasira area in eastern Qatif while on patrol.

Mohammed Hussein Hazazi died, while another soldier, Khaled Maaber, was injured.

The oil-producing region is home to a large Shia population and has been a flashpoint between the Sunni Muslim government and Shias complaining of discrimination.

In particular, the town of Awamiyah has been suffering from what residents have described as a state of "siege" after security forces entered to assist the demolition of the town's old city.

Last week, a police officer was killed and at least 20 others were injured in clashes in the town.

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

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 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 a 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.

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

Nimr was a driving force behind protests by Shias 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.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday executed four men convicted of "terrorist crimes" including attacks on police and participating in riots in Qatif.

The interior ministry named the four as Zaher al-Basri, Yusof al-Meshikhes, Mahdi al-Sayyegh and Amjad al-Emeibid, according to a statement aired by Al-Ekhbariyah state news channel.

They were convicted of "disobeying the ruler" and attempting to "sow sedition".

They were found guilty of charges including opening fire at police centres in Qatif villages and taking part in riots and hurling petrol bombs at security forces and government installations.

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