Saudi Arabia 'in control' of 'flattened' Shia district
Saudi forces have "control" over of restless district in the Shia-majority east and are winding down their campaign, a minister has said, but at a bloody cost for residents and with whole blocks of Awamiya town completely destroyed.
Saudi soldiers were spotted celebrated on the streets of the historic al-Masoura neighbourhood on Wednesday, Reuters reported, where a six-month campaign to win back the area appears to be coming to an end.
The offensive has been as destructive has it has been arduous.
Saudi security forces have had to advance slowly through the narrow streets of the old quarter, which the government says has been a hotbed of Shia militancy.
"[Saudi security forces have] 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," reported Sabq news website, AFP said.
Saudi Arabia's Information and Culture Minister Awwad al-Awwad also said that the long campaign is finally coming to an end.
"[Security forces have] eliminated terrorism and brought peace and security," said Awwad who took the ministerial post in April tweeted, congratulating Saudi troops and police for "cleansing al-Masoura".
Saudi Arabia has come under huge criticism for its campaign in the eastern province, which has led to scores of civilians dead, including a three-year-old child on Wednesday.
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Riyadh wants to destroy the historic Masoura district, where the narrow alleyways have been a haven for militants whose hit-and-run attacks on security forces have continued.
Saudi Arabia's eastern province has seen a number of militant shootings and bombings of on and off-duty police and troops.
Awamiya and other parts of the Shia-majority eastern province have been shook by a wave of protests against the government.
Saudi Shias complain of oppression, discrimination and underfunding in the oil-rich region by the government.
They are now incensed at the destruction of the historic Masoura district, which the UN says threatens Awamiya's cultural heritage.
Riyadh argues that the redevelopment of the neighbourhood is needed and backed by the majority of the community. Around $200 million has been earmarked for the residents in compensation, Reuters reported.
But the destruction unleashed on Masoura and the continued acts of rebellion - from shootings, to the pasting of executed Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr - shows that support for the redevelopment is far from universal.
Although Riyadh has not made an official announcement about the end of the mission, journalists were taken for a tour of the neighbourhood in a sign of confidence that Masoura is now secure.
But the destruction of the neighbourhood which has been described as "flattened" by Reuters, means there will likely be lingering resentment against the destruction of the heritage area - and the manner in which it was done.