Why part of a Shia town in Saudi Arabia has been flattened

A member of the Saudi Special Forces in the town of Awamiya in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia on August 9, 2017.

(CNN)Saudi elite forces are in the process of razing the historic quarter of a largely Shia town in the country's eastern province after months of clashes with gunmen in the area.

The move is the culmination of a three-month government campaign to root out gunmen from the 400-year-old Musawara neighborhood of Awamiya. The government considers the area to be a breeding ground for opposition groups and the center of anti-government protests, where many locals have chafed under Sunni rule.

What has been happening in Awamiya?

In recent weeks, Saudi police stepped up operations in Musawara and dispatched commandos, the Saudi Special Forces, to the area. A government source tells CNN, Saudi forces are nearly "95% done" flushing out the fighters and the area is expected to be cleared within days.
    Musawara is home to up to 3,000 people, all of whom, the government says, are being evicted with compensation and alternative housing.
    The UN has slammed the move, with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, warning that demolitions would "erase" the neighborhood's "unique regional heritage."
    Members of Saudi Special Forces stand guard in the town of Awamiya.
    Saudi authorities have said they are seeking to eliminate a terrorist threat that has targeted security forces in the area for more than six years, while activists say the anti-government campaign has been predominantly peaceful.
    There is no official death toll, but Saudi authorities have reported that Awamiya gunmen have killed and injured several of their security forces. Reuters quotes residents as saying that civilians and fighters have also been killed in the government's military campaign.
    A Saudi government source says that Musawara's narrow streets and abandoned buildings serve as a "criminal's haven" and that Saudi police were unable to patrol the area because of the intensity of the attacks against them.