Published: Tue, June 06, 2017
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Arab nations cut ties with Qatar, saying it backs terror

Arab nations cut ties with Qatar, saying it backs terror

Philippine Airlines on Monday said its regular flights to Qatar are unaffected by the diplomatic row between Qatar and four other countries in the Middle East.

Hints of an impending crisis emerged last month when Doha alleged that hackers were behind the release of false remarks attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani published on the Qatar News Agency website.

Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow at London's Chatham House, said the renewed tensions were not clearly linked to "something new that Qatar has done".

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Sydney on Monday that the spat would not effect the fight against Islamist militants and that Washington has encouraged its Gulf allies to resolve their differences.

The crisis that erupted on Monday came only a few weeks after US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia to cement ties with Riyadh and called for Muslim countries to unite against extremism.

The crisis is the worst to hit Gulf Arab nations since the creation in 1981 of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) grouping Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.

The diplomatic broadside threatens the global prestige of Qatar, which hosts a large USA military base and is set to host the 2022 World Cup.

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

Riyadh accused Qatar of "backing terrorist groups in the province of Qatif, Saudi Arabia, and in the Kingdom of Bahrain and the financing and the adoption of harboring extremists who seek to strike the stability and unity of the nation at home and overseas". Some of its flights were going through Iranian airspace Monday.

Economic consequences were already emerging, with UAE carriers Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia, as well as Saudi Airlines, announcing the suspension of all flights to and from Qatar as of Tuesday morning.

Earlier too, Qatar had invited criticism from its neighbours over its support to former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader. As a result, the neighbouring countries blocked Qatari-based media including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera. The chief worry among them is the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political group opposed to monarchical rule. 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.

During that visit, Trump singled out Iran as a key source of finance and support for armed groups, describing the Islamic Republic as "the world's biggest funder of terrorism". 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.

Gas-rich Doha, which has long exercised an independent streak in its foreign policy, last month denied comments which appeared on its official news agency questioning U.S. hostility towards Iran.

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