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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Turkey and Qatar stage joint military exercises

It comes after the Turkish parliament fast-tracked legislation on June 7 to allow hundreds of troops to be deployed to a military base near the Qatari capital

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, is seen here with his wife, Emine, left, and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, right, in Doha on July 24, 2017. Presidency Press Service via AP, Pool
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, centre, is seen here with his wife, Emine, left, and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, right, in Doha on July 24, 2017. Presidency Press Service via AP, Pool

Qatar and Turkey have staged joint military exercises near Doha, according to local media.

It comes after Turkey's parliament fast-tracked legislation on June 7 to allow hundreds of troops to be deployed to a military base near the Qatari capital.

Ankara had said it would deploy 3,000 ground troops at the base for it to serve as a venue for joint training exercises and to support antiterrorism efforts.

Qatar's state-owned Al Sharq newspaper said the manoeuvres with Turkey were aimed at preparing Qatar's armed forces to defend "vital economic, strategic and infrastructure facilities".

Other local media reported that the so-called "Iron Shield" exercises had ended on Sunday. It was unclear if they had been held at the Turkish base.

Ankara has stood by Qatar amid a boycott by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt who accuse Doha of supporting terrorism.

The four countries want Qatar to close down the Turkish base, among other demands.

On Sunday, The National reported that Doha was considering opening up trade routes through Iran to bring in Turkish products and circumnavigate the boycott.

Ziya Meral, a UK-based political analyst who focuses on Turkey and the Middle East, told The National last week that Turkey and Qatar share a lot of regional policies and so increasing bilateral ties makes sense.

“[Turkish troops] are partaking in, quote unquote, military exercises with Qatar, which is nothing but, basically, a diplomatic manoeuvre on its part to assert solidarity with Qatar,” he added.

Last month, Turkish president Recip Tayyip Erdogan made a trip to the region in an attempt to mediate the crisis between Doha and the quartet of Arab countries.

Mr Erdogan has described the quartet's demand for Doha to close the Turkish military base as “disrespectful against Turkey.”

Qatar, meanwhile, says hosting the foreign base — the only Turkish military presence in the Gulf — is within its sovereign rights.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor its three partners in the boycott are likely to back down from the demand that Qatar expel Turkish forces since they regard Ankara's close ties with Iran as a potential threat to Gulf stability.

Although Turkey maintains that its military deployment in Qatar stems from a 2014 agreement, the decision to send troops to the Gulf country was rushed through the Turkish parliament within days of the Qatar crisis beginning on June 5.

The base near Doha is currently home to 150 Turkish troops but has the capacity to hold 5,000.

* Additional reporting by Reuters