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Gunmen attack Saudi forces in Saihat

Four security personnel injured

Gulf News

Riyadh: Four Saudi security personnel were injured in an attack by masked gunmen while on patrol in Saihat in the oil-rich Eastern Province, the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an Interior Ministry spokesman.

Gunmen also fired at a police station in Awwamiya and threw a Molotov cocktail while riding motorcycles, the Riyadh-based news service said today, citing Major General Mansour Al Turki. One of the assailants was killed in the attack on the station and three others escaped, it said.

While Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia largely avoided the unrest that spread across the Arab world last year, minority Shiite protesters have clashed with security forces in Awwamiya, Al Qatif and other eastern towns. In February, Saudi Arabia accused “a number of elements” of trying to provoke violence by firing on security forces in Awwamiya.

“A new cycle of Shiite protests against the Saudi regime and its policing tactics is developing in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia,” Crispin Hawes, director for the Middle East and North Africa at Eurasia Group in London, wrote in an e- mailed note yesterday. “The immediate implications for state stability and crude oil production are limited, but the repercussions for the stability of the province in the longer- term are potentially significant.”

Oil pipelines run near the village to Ras Tanura, the country’s largest refinery, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) away. Awwamiya is close to the Al Qatif oil field, which produces as much as 500,000 barrels a day. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Cleric arrested

The attacks came about five days after Saudi security forces arrested dissident Shiite cleric Nimr Al Nimr in Awwamiya earlier this month, the Saudi Press Agency reported on July 8. Two Shiite men were killed after his arrest though there were no security confrontations, the Interior Ministry said in a statement sent by mobile-phone text message on July 9.

The Interior Ministry said a “limited number of people have assembled” in Awwamiya.

“The current demonstrations are more severe and appear to be more coordinated than previous incidents,” Hawes said.

US citizens living in or considering travel to Al Qatif and Awwamiya should exercise caution and be aware of the potential for protests that can result in violence, the American Embassy in Riyadh said in an e-mailed statement on July 9. There is a potential for further demonstrations, the embassy said.

Awwamiya, a village north of AlQatif on the Arabian Gulf, was the scene of much larger demonstrations in 2009 after police sought to arrest Al Nimr, who had said in a sermon that Saudi Shiites may be able to seek a state of their own in the future. Al Nimr has been one of the people behind riots in Awwamiya, the Interior Ministry said after his arrest.

Saudi Arabia has accused Shiite-led Iran of interfering in the affairs of Arab countries in the Arabian Gulf, home to three-fifths of the world’s oil reserves.