Wednesday 25 April 2018

Qatar cut adrift by Arab neighbours in row over terror support

A Qatari woman walks in front of the city skyline in Doha after four Arab countries severed ties with their neighbour (Kamran Jebreili/AP)
A Qatari woman walks in front of the city skyline in Doha after four Arab countries severed ties with their neighbour (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries have severed ties with Qatar and moved to cut off land, sea and air routes to the energy-rich nation, accusing it of supporting regional terror groups.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates made no demands of Qatar as their decision plunged the international travel hub into chaos and ignited the biggest diplomatic crisis in the Gulf since the 1991 war against Iraq.

Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup and is home to some 10,000 American troops, criticised the move as a "violation of its sovereignty".

It long has denied supporting militant groups and described the crisis as being fuelled by "absolute fabrications" stemming from a recent hack of its state-run news agency.

Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, through which the tiny Gulf nation imports most of its food, sparking a run on supermarkets.

The four countries have begun withdrawing their diplomatic staff from Qatar as regional airlines announced they would suspend services to its capital Doha.

The move came just weeks after US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and vowed to improve ties with both Riyadh and Cairo to combat regional terror groups and contain Iran.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the latest move was rooted in longstanding differences and urged the parties to resolve them.

Saudi Arabia said it took the decision to cut diplomatic ties due to Qatar's "embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region", including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Islamic State and groups supported by Iran in the kingdom's restive Eastern Province.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry accused Qatar of taking an "antagonist approach" towards Cairo and said "all attempts to stop it from supporting terrorist groups failed".

The countries all ordered their citizens out of Qatar and gave Qataris abroad 14 days to return home to their peninsular nation, whose only land border is with Saudi Arabia. The countries also said they would eject Qatar's diplomats.

All the nations also said they planned to cut air and sea traffic. Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera reported trucks carrying food had begun to line up on the Saudi side of the border, apparently stranded, while the Qatar Stock Exchange fell more than 7%.

Saudi Arabia said it would begin blocking all Qatari flights at midnight.

Qatar's Foreign Affairs Ministry said there is "no legitimate justification" for the countries' decision, though it vowed its citizens would not be affected by it.

"The Qatari government will take all necessary measures to ensure this and to thwart attempts to influence and harm the Qatari society and economy," it said.

Premier UAE airlines Etihad and Emirates announced they would suspend flights to Qatar, as did budget carriers Air Arabia and FlyDubai. Bahrain's Gulf Air and Saudia joined them.

Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen. Yemen's internationally-backed government, which no longer holds its capital and large portions of the country, also cut relations with Qatar, as did the Maldives.

Qatar is home to the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, which is home to the forward headquarters of the US military's Central Command. It was not clear if the decision would affect American military operations.

In Sydney, Mr Tillerson said he did not believe the diplomatic crisis would affect the war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"I think what we're witnessing is a growing list of disbelief in the countries for some time, and they've bubbled up to take action in order to have those differences addressed," he said.

"We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences."

Before Monday, Qatar had appeared unperturbed by the growing tensions. On May 27, Qatar's ruling emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani called Iranian president Hasan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election.

The call was a clear, public rebuttal of Saudi Arabia's efforts to force Qatar to fall in line against the Shiite-ruled nation, which the Sunni kingdom sees as its number one enemy and a threat to regional stability. Qatar shares a massive offshore gas field with Iran.


Press Association

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