RIYADH: Saudi authorities have retaken control of a district in the kingdom’s east following months of unrest and a police crackdown, according to witnesses, a minister and local media.
The Al-Masoura district, which lies in the eastern town of Awamiya, has seen clashes between security forces and men the authorities have labelled as “terrorist elements.”
The latest violence began when construction work started to turn Al-Masoura into a commercial and cultural district.
The project would have seen many old abandoned houses demolished, to the anger of residents who demanded protection for the neighborhood’s historical heart. The violence has led to the deaths of several protestors and security personnel.
Information and Culture Minister Awwad al-Awwad tweeted Wednesday that the country’s leadership had “eliminated terrorism and brought peace and security” to the area. He praised the “success ... of the security forces in cleansing Al-Masoura.”
The Sabq news website said security forces had on Tuesday “taken control of Al-Masoura district of Awamiya and cleansed the area of terrorists ... after security operations that led to the deaths of a number of terrorists and the arrest of others.”
Residents of a nearby district, who had heard continuous gunfire over the past two weeks said the area was quiet Tuesday. They said special forces had deployed at the entrances and inside the quarter, home to around 8,000 families.The security services did not make an official announcement, but did take a group of journalists, escorted by special forces in armored vehicles, to visit the district Wednesday.
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.
Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province is the source of most of the kingdom’s oil but also home to its Shiite minority.