RIYADH (Dispatches) – Human Rights Watch says Saudi forces have encircled the predominantly Shia town of Awamiyah and sealed it off since July, raising concerns about the humanitarian situation there.
The New York-based rights organization cited five Awamiyah residents and three activists as saying on Sunday that the town’s residents are at risk, with Saudi security forces "arbitrarily shooting at or arresting those who emerged from their houses.”
Since July 26, they said, Saudi authorities have prevented emergency services from reaching the wounded and failed to provide humanitarian assistance to trapped Awamiyah citizens.
The residents also noted that an order had never been issued for people to leave Awamiyah while their only chance out of the town had been short periods coordinated with local volunteers and activists.
Saudi forces turn away anyone who tries to return to Awamiyah to check on relatives or recover possessions, they added.
The residents further complained that the Awamiyah electricity grid have been damaged and all clinics as well as pharmacies have been closed since May.
"Saudi security forces should provide essential services to trapped Awamiyah residents and make sure they can move in and out of the town safely,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
She also urged Riyadh to hold security forces accountable if probes showed that they had fired at residents unlawfully.
"Saudi authorities should also immediately and credibly investigate whether its forces used excessive force in Awamiyah,” Whitson pointed out.
She said Saudi Shia in Awamiyah face discrimination every day, and for the last three months, they have been caught in the crossfire.
She further called on Saudi officials "to allow people to safely return home, allow business and clinics to reopen, and compensate residents for property damage and destruction caused by security forces.”
The HRW warned that significant damage has been inflicted on Awamiyah based on an assessment of satellite imagery from February and August.
Awamiyah, situated in Eastern Province, has long been a flashpoint between the Saudi kingdom and the inhabitants complaining of discrimination.
It has witnessed renewed deadly clashes between the military and residents since May, when Saudi forces began razing the town’s old quarter, known as al-Mosawara.
Saudi authorities claim that Mosawara’s narrow streets have become a hideout for militants suspected of being behind attacks on security forces in Eastern Province.
Critics, however, say Saudi Arabia is trying to bring a demographic change to the city, erasing cultural heritage and violating human rights through Mosawara’s demolition.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said recently that the world body could not independently verify the reports coming out of Awamiyah, but that all Riyadh’s actions should be in line with its commitments to human rights.