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Saudis say they 'forced' three Iranian boats to leave their waters

Iranian state media say Saudi coastguard opened fire on Iranian fishermen who had strayed into Saudi waters
Saudi-Iran tensions increased after attacks on oil tankers in Gulf and Saudi oil installations last year (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia said on Saturday that three Iranian boats were "forced to retreat" from its waters after warning shots were fired, state media reported. 

"At 6.30pm [local time] on Thursday... the coastguard spotted three Iranian boats after they entered Saudi waters," the official Saudi Press Agency said. 

The ships "refused to respond" to repeated warnings, after which "warning shots were fired... forcing them to retreat," it added. The report did not identify what kind of ships they were, AFP said.

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Meanwhile, Iranian state media cited a local official in Bushehr province in the Gulf as saying the Saudi coastguard had opened fire on Iranian fishermen who had strayed into Saudi waters but that initial reports said no one was hurt, according to Reuters.

The Iranian report said the fishermen had left on 21 June for a 10-day trip. It did not specify when the engagement with the Saudi coastguard occurred and it was not immediately clear whether the two reports referred to the same incident.

Mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia terminated diplomatic relations with Shia-dominated Iran following 2016 attacks by protesters on its mission in Iran after Riyadh had executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has been at odds with Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979 ushered in a Shia theocracy and set the two countries on a collision course.

Today, they stand on opposing sides of conflicts in the Middle East, including in Syria and Yemen.

Tensions have risen in the last year after a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and Saudi oil installations, incidents that roiled global energy markets

Both the United States and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind those attacks, a charge denied by Tehran.

Middle East Eye reported last September that the strikes on Saudi oil installations were made by Iranian drones launched from Hashd al-Shaabi militia bases in southern Iraq, according to a senior Iraqi intelligence official.

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