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Saudi Police Hurt in Shooting Incident in Oil-Rich Province

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Saudi police patrol late yesterday in the Shiite area of Qatif as Shiite religious leaders try to reduce tensions in the oil-producing region of the Eastern Province.

One policeman was injured then transferred to a hospital, the Saudi Press Agency reported today, citing a police statement. The incident is under investigation, the Riyadh-based news service said.

The attack occurred a day after a Shiite man was killed in clashes with police in the village of Awwamiya in Qatif. That incident happened when Shiites youth attacked a patrol in the village, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Jan. 13.

Predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has accused Shiite-led Iran of interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, home to three-fifths of the world’s oil reserves. Iran denies the allegation and accuses Sunni rulers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of discriminating against Shiites.

Shiite youths “have started taking to the streets,” Tawfiq al-Saif, a prominent Shiite activist from the eastern region, said by telephone today. “They used to listen to the older generation. Since October, they have stopped listening to their elders.” That month, 11 members of the security forces were attacked and injured during unrest in Awwamiya. Shiite religious leaders are trying “to calm” the situation, he said.

Regional Tensions

The violence in the Eastern Province comes as tensions increase between a U.S.-led alliance and Iran. The U.S. tightened economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program on Dec. 31 and the European Union is also weighing a ban later this month on purchases of Iranian crude.

Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority is concentrated in the Eastern oil-producing hub, which lies across a 16-mile (26-kilometer) causeway from Shiite-majority Bahrain, where there were clashes in February and March as security forces crushed protests by Shiites demanding democracy and representative government.

In November, a delegation of Shiite Muslim scholars and clerics from al-Qatif condemned clashes between Shiites and the kingdom’s security forces that month, Al-Yaum newspaper reported. The delegation pledged their loyalty to the Al Saud leadership and expressed regret about the fighting, the newspaper said, citing Sheikh Mohammed al-Jirani from Qatif.

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