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Saudi Arabia: Increasing fears for civilian lives and property as the authorities escalate the military assault on Awamiyah

The Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately stop the vicious military assault on the town of Awamiyah,and must protect civilians and not forcibly evict them without providing adequate shelter, said the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR).

On Friday, 28 July, the Saudi authorities announced that the remaining residents of the town of Awamiyah, estimated to be around 35,000, must leave the town within four hours. Intermediaries relayed the authorities’ directives and informed local residents that they should leave the town through two specific exits and carry white flags as they do so.

Witnesses have revealed that despite these announcements, the authorities randomly fired at the mass influx of residentsfleeing the town.It remains unclear how many of the fleeing civilians have beenkilled and woundedbecause of the random shooting which has been ongoing for the past two days.

Residents expressed to ESOHR their deep fears for civilian lives and property. One resident who was driving his family out of the town told ESOHR that the soldiers manning one of the military checkpoints revealed the security forces’ intention to burn down whole neighborhoods.

In the past two days, a massive military build-up has been reported at the outskirts of the town as the military forces stationed inside the town escalated their use of excessive force against the town’s residents. Previously, the authorities had ordered the Taraji sports club to evacuate the Amir Nayef Sport City stadium,located on the outskirts of al-Qatif, which they since have used to station newly brought-in military equipment and personnel, reported to be that of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

ESOHR has also received worrying reports from local residents that new and heavier weapons than those of the past months have been used in shelling residential areas in the past two days. A local resident told ESOHR that one such bombing of his relative’s house destroyed two of the house’s walls entrapping and terrifying its residents which included children.

Residents told ESOHR that they counted at least 100 explosions, believed to be heavy artillery shelling,in the Awamiyah in the early hours of 26 July, but that they were unable to assess the scale of the damage as the authorities have been firing at any person who comes out to the street. As a result of the authorities’ shooting, reports indicate that medical and emergency aid has beenunable to reach many of those wounded in the past two days.

Also on 26 July, security forces in armored vehicles raided a residential building in the Hay al-Reef neighborhood. After breaking into the building’s apartments by smashing the doors, the security forces arrested most of the building’s male residents before taking them to an undisclosed location. No one has heard from them or knows of their whereabouts since then.

Saudi security forces have also intentionally targeted and killed civilians. On 27 July, an eyewitness told ESOHR that a sniper on an armored vehicle stationed at the town’s cemetery shot and fatally wounded Hussein Ibrahim al-Zaher, a local resident in his 60s, while he was in his car next to his house. According to the eyewitness, the sniper continued to fire at anyone who attempted to come to Hussein al-Zaher’s rescue until over an hour later when he had already died because of the bullet wounds.

ESOHR has received information that on 26 July the Saudi authorities extrajudicially executed three Saudi citizens who are Muhsin Mohamed al-Jami, Mohamed Abdulaziz al-Faraj, and Hussein Mohamed Abu Abdullah. At least three others, believed to be foreign migrant workers have also been reported to have been killed by the authorities.

ESOHR has not been able to independently verify the above killings or how they occurred, but it noticed that on 28 July the Saudi official newspaper, Okaz, reported that the security forces killed three men who it had listed as wanted suspects.ESOHR was able to confirm that the above named three individuals were not on any of the authorities’ lists of wanted suspects, but it believes that the authorities have made such references as they often do to justify unlawful killings.

The latest military escalation of the past days comes after months of siege that the authorities have imposed on the town of Awamiyah under the guise of arresting wanted armed men whom they accuse of “terrorist crimes”. During these months the authorities have used excessive force, random shelling of residential areas, extrajudicial executions, demolitions, arson, collective punishment such as cutting the town’s electricity and denying its residents access to food and basic supplies as they completely besieged the town and controlled its entrances.

Local residents have been reporting an increasingly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Awamiyah as they are being subjected to arbitrary and unlawful violence on a daily basis by the Saudi authorities and security forces. Residents of neighboring towns of Safwa, Sayhat and Tarout have been unable to provide adequateaidto the people of Awamiyah despite risking their lives to donate food, necessities, and transportation to the town’s residents, which itself indicates Awamiyah’s dire humanitarian situation and the authorities’ callous disregard for human life.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, and other international human rights organizations as well as the United Nations bodies, have called on the Saudi Arabian authorities to end their assault on Awamiyah on numerous occasions in the past months. Despite these appeals, the authorities have continued to commit gross and systematic human rights violations with impunity and indirect foreign military support by their Western allies in some cases.

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