Saudi forces raze Awamiya old quar­ter

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

AWAMIYA, Saudi Ara­bia: A se­cu­rity cam­paign against gun­men in the eastern part of Saudi Ara­bia has re­duced dozens of build­ings in the town of Awamiya to husks and seen thou­sands of res­i­dents flee. Se­cu­rity forces have been try­ing for three months to flush out gun­men be­hind years of at­tacks on po­lice in the small town of around 30,000 that has been the cen­ter of protests.

Jour­nal­ists on a gov­ern­ment tour of the town yes­ter­day were the first out­side wit­nesses of the dam­age wrought by the rare bat­tle in the tightly con­trolled king­dom, a key Western ally and the world’s top oil ex­porter. Re­porters es­corted by spe­cial forces in ar­mored ve­hi­cles saw streets in Awamiya’s old quar­ter trans­formed into a war zone a world away from the sparkling cityscapes else­where in the en­ergy-rich Gulf. There was no fight­ing dur­ing the tour. Rusted-out cars lay half-flat­tened next to evis­cer­ated homes pocked with hun­dreds of bul­let holes. Graf­fiti blared along one rub­ble-strewn street.

Fight­ing picked up this month when elite forces joined an oper­a­tion that au­thor­i­ties be­gan in May to tear down the old quar­ter, known as Al-Mu­sawara,

to pre­vent gun­men us­ing the nar­row streets to evade cap­ture. Casualty fig­ures have not been pub­lished, but the min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tive said eight mem­bers of a po­lice rapid re­ac­tion team and four spe­cial forces troops have been killed since the lat­est cam­paign be­gan. Res­i­dents say nine civil­ians have been killed in the vi­o­lence in the past week.

Res­i­dents es­ti­mate that up to 20,000 peo­ple have fled or been evac­u­ated to safer towns and vil­lages nearby. An in­te­rior min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tive said the old quar­ter had been empty ex­cept for “ter­ror­ists” for the past six months, but the se­cu­rity forces had to wait un­til fam­i­lies left ad­ja­cent ar­eas be­fore they could be­gin their fi­nal push. The au­thor­i­ties say they com­pen­sated res­i­dents who have had to leave. Footage shared on so­cial me­dia yes­ter­day showed se­cu­rity forces cel­e­brat­ing their progress by link­ing arms and danc­ing in a cir­cle, their au­to­matic weapons hoisted in the air. But the fight may not yet be over, and the cam­paign may sow fur­ther dis­con­tent among the Shi­ite pop­u­la­tion which com­plains of dis­crim­i­na­tion, charges the king­dom’s au­thor­i­ties deny.

Around ten bull­doz­ers busily worked to de­mol­ish more build­ings and scrape up the detri­tus of com­bat, and the sol­diers driv­ing them still wore their hel­mets and body ar­mor. The bright pink walls of a be­d­room lay ex­posed on the first floor of a col­lapsed house.

A light brown-col­ored dog was seen wan­der­ing around, an or­ange leash still drag­ging be­hind him. In place of AlMu­sawara, au­thor­i­ties say they will build an at­trac­tive district of shop­ping cen­ters, of­fice build­ings, green spa­ces and foun­tains. — Reuters

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