This is not Aleppo, nor Mosul, this is Awamiya in Saudi Arabia as regime continues offensive on historic Shia town pic.twitter.com/zdUWBuGcKT— Yusra M. (@Temimi_Yusra) August 5, 2017
It looks like a scene from a Palestinian village where homes are being demolished for Jewish settlers or the Syrian city of Aleppo during its military siege.
But it is not.
This is actually a Shiite-majority town of al-Awamiyah in the Qatif province of Saudi Arabia, where Saudi forces have been demolishing age-old homes, claiming they are hideouts for militants.
The destruction has sparked shootouts between the Shiite gunmen and Saudi security forces at a time when the Gulf kingdom and its allies severed ties with Qatar demanding it cut off its ties with the Shiite-majority Iran.
On May 10, bulldozers began demolishing al-Awamiyah’s historic district, al-Musawara. A Twitter account affiliated to news website Al-Awamiah has posted video showing the extent of destruction and the aftermath of shelling outside some houses.
Satellite images have also revealed districts of the city that have been reduced to rubble as government forces clash with Shiite militants.
According to an activist, farm workers in Al-Ramis, a district north of al-Awamiyah, received voice messages ordering them to take their animals out of the area. Moreover, residents have been forcibly evacuated and their houses seized by private development companies, mostly around al-Musawara. Requisition notices, stamped by the National Joint Counterterrorism Command, a body formed in 2003 after the attacks by al-Qaeda militants in the country, have been pinned to houses, detailing a list of requirements for anyone who wanted to relocate.
Activists have accused Saudi forces of harrying residents out of al-Awamiyah by random bouts of shelling at houses and cars. However, the Saudi government denied these charges.
Activists also said several residences and shops have been burned or badly damaged in the fight.
Electricity has been shut down and private generators destroyed while municipal services like water, fire and waste collection have been suspended.
Volunteers have now begun collecting rubbish themselves.
Locals told Reuters at least three police officers and nine civilians, including a 2-year-old girl, have been killed in the clashes. Though the exact number of casualties is hard to verify, activists believe as many as 24 people have been killed.
Al-Awamiyah, which has a population of 25,000 to 35,000 residents, has long been a flashpoint for Saudi Arabia’s Shiite community. Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric who was executed by the Saudi government in 2016, also came from this town.
Andrew Hammond, a consultant on Middle East politics, said the fighting in Al-Awamiyah also serves as a diversion from the political instability in the Gulf kingdom following the replacement of former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef with the current king's son, Mohammed bin Salman.
Banner/Thumbnail: Reuters, Essam Al-Sudani