Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali KhameneiReuters

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday warned residents of the drought-hit southwest not to give ammunition to the "enemy" after days of protests that have seen at least four killed, AFP reports.

Khuzestan, Iran's main oil-producing region and the wealthiest of the country's 31 provinces, has been gripped by drought since March, with protests erupting in several towns and cities since July 15.

Footage from the protests has shown Iranian police opening fire at the demonstrators.

Khamenei acknowledged the seriousness of the water problem and said residents of Khuzestan were not to blame for expressing their discontent, but he urged them to be cautious.

"The enemy will try to use any tool against the revolution, the nation and the people's interests, so we must be careful not to give him any pretext," Khamenei said, in remarks published on his official website and quoted by AFP.

Addressing residents of Khuzestan, he added, "The people have expressed their discontent, but we can't criticize them for that."

"The water problem is not a minor one, particularly in Khuzestan's hot climate."

Iranian media and officials have said at least three people have been killed in the riots, including a police officer and a protester.

State television said Friday that a fourth person was killed the previous night and two wounded during "rioting" in the town of Aligudarz, in the western province of Lorestan.

It said people had taken to the streets "on the pretext of the water problems in Khuzestan".

"Shots were fired by unknown elements," the broadcaster said, adding that the security forces were deployed to tackle the situation.

Amnesty International said Iranian security forces "have deployed unlawful force, including by firing live ammunition and birdshot, to crush mostly peaceful protests."

Human Rights Watch called on the government to "transparently investigate" the reported deaths.

Iran is notorious for its crackdowns on protesters. Massive protests erupted across Iran in November 2019 after a major petrol price hike, but they were put down by security forces with mass arrests amid a near-total internet blackout.

Amnesty International reported at the time that at least 300 people were killed in that unrest, many shot dead by security forces.

Eyewitness accounts and videos said security forces responded to the November protests by opening fire on unarmed protesters, largely unemployed or low-income young men between the ages of 19 and 26.

Iran blamed the violence that broke out during the protests on "thugs" backed by its foes the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)