Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have broken off diplomatic relations and all land sea and air contacts with fellow Gulf Arab state Qatar, in the region’s most serious diplomatic crisis in years.
Saudi Arabia on Monday said the move was necessary to protect the kingdom from what it described as terrorism and extremism. The kingdom also pulled all Qatari troops from the coalition fighting the ongoing war in Yemen.
The official state news agency, citing an official source, said Saudi Arabia had decided to sever diplomatic and consular relations with Qatar “proceeding from the exercise of its sovereign right guaranteed by international law and the protection of national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”.
Saudi Arabia cut all land air and sea contacts with Qatar “and urges all brotherly countries and companies to do the same.”
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir about Iran and Israel. Its Gulf Arab neighbors responded with anger, blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.
Qatar is home to the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, which is home to the US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. It wasn’t clear if the decision would affect American military operations. Central Command officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar long has faced criticism from its Arab neighbors over its support of Islamists. The chief worry among them is the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political group outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the nations’ hereditary rule.
Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia fell out with Qatar over its backing of then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member. In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar over the rift.
Eight months later, they returned their ambassadors as Qatar forced some Brotherhood members to leave the country and quieted others. However, the 2014 crisis did not see a land and sea blockade as threatened now.
In the time since, Qatar repeatedly and strongly denied it funds extremist groups. However, it remains a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012.
Western officials also have accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists like al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.
The crisis also comes after US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia for a summit with Arab leaders. Since the meeting, unrest in the region has grown.
Bahrain’s foreign affairs ministry issued a statement early Monday saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital of Doha within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.
The ministry’s statement said Qatari citizens needed to leave Bahrain within two weeks and that air and sea traffic between the two countries would be halted. It wasn’t immediately clear how that would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.
Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.
The UAE’s state news agency WAM reported the Emirates cut ties and gave diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, citing their “support, funding and embrace of terrorist, extremist and sectarian organisations”.
Egypt announced the closure of its airspace and seaports for all Qatari transportation to protect its national security.
Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing the Gulf Arab state of supporting “terrorist” organisations including the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s state news agency reported.
Qatar had no immediate comment.(The Guardian)