UAE and Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar and shut air, land and sea access
Abu Dhabi // The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt broke diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday and cut off air, sea and land routes over Doha’s support for “terrorist groups aiming to destabilise the region”.
In the most serious crisis to face the GCC, Saudi Arabia will close the vital land border through which Qatar imports much of its food and other commodities, and air and sea travel has also been suspended.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have also given Qataris 14 days to leave their countries, and diplomats 48 hours. Qataris will not be allowed to enter or transit through the UAE and Emiratis are also prevented from travel to or through Qatar.
Gulf airlines, including Etihad Airways and Emirates, will suspend all flights to and from Qatar from Tuesday. The UAE also said its airspace and territorial waters would be closed to Qatari vessels and aircraft.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the UAE had taken the measures because of Qatar’s “continued support, funding and hosting of terror groups, primarily Islamic Brotherhood, and its sustained endeavours to promote the ideologies of Daesh and Al Qaeda across its direct and indirect media”.
The action against Qatar immediately began to affect those living in the peninsula and across the GCC. News that Qatar’s only land border would be closed caused a rush on food and supplies in Doha supermarkets. Qatar imports 90 per cent of its food, mostly through the border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi and UAE cut ties with Qatar
■ Comment: Doha needs to address contradictions
A private sector worker in Doha said he was stocking up on his favourite foods and that people were in a state of shock.
“People are, of course, scared,” he said. “They don’t know what’s going to happen to them. People are utterly shocked — they are going frantic.”
Passengers booked on flights out of the UAE through Doha tried to rebook departures as Qatar Airways suspended all flights to the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt from Tuesday.
The UAE blamed Qatar’s “violation of the statement issued at the US-Islamic Summit in Riyadh” last month, which gave commitments to countering terrorism in the region and branded Iran a state sponsor of terrorism.
Doha’s policies “sow seeds of sedition and discord among the region’s countries”, the foreign ministry said. The statement referred to comments attributed to Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim after Donald Trump’s trip to the Saudi capital in which he criticised Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Washington’s renewed bid to contain and confront Iran.
Qatari officials claim Sheikh Tamim’s remarks were fabricated as part of an operation by hackers, but the incident led to the reopening of tensions between Qatar and its larger neighbours over its support for Islamist groups that appeared to have been settled by 2015. Qatar’s foreign ministry said: “The measures are unjustified and are based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact.”
Tensions between Abu Dhabi and Doha over Qatar’s ties with a range of Islamist groups have simmered since 2014, when the same countries withdrew their ambassadors.
The accession of King Salman to the Saudi throne and a closer alignment under Sheikh Tamim with Riyadh’s policies in Yemen and Syria appeared to have reunified the three main powers of the GCC. But relations over Qatar’s support for Muslim Brotherhood groups never recovered.
Riyadh announced on Monday that Doha’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen had been terminated. The Saudi foreign ministry also accused Doha of providing support for the Houthis.
Yemen’s internationally recognised government also said it had cut relations with Qatar and that it supports the decision to end Qatar’s participation in the war.
The Trump administration called for a de-escalation of the crisis and secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the developments would not affect US counterterrorism and military operations in the region.
He urged the GCC to find a solution to their differences and said the US was willing to play a mediation role.
Qatar hosts Al Udeid airbase, the forward headquarters of US Central Command, which oversees the fight against ISIL and operations in Afghanistan. It is a key component of Washington’s strategic posture in the Gulf.
Central Command said it had “no plans to change our posture in Qatar” and that US military aircraft continued to fly missions despite the rift. In announcing the action against Doha, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of support for “terrorist groups aiming to destabilise the region” including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIL and Al Qaeda, as well as “Iranian-backed” militants in Saudi’s eastern province and Bahrain.
The UAE also accused Qatar of failing to comply with a 2014 agreement that resolved a previous months-long dispute between GCC states over Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The foreign ministry accused Doha of trying to drive a wedge between the peoples of the region and said the latest measures were for the benefit of all GCC states and the people of Qatar in particular.
“The UAE affirms its full respect and appreciation for the brotherly Qatari people on account of the profound historical, religious and fraternal ties and kin relations binding UAE and Qatari peoples,” the ministry said.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE also acted against Qatari media outlets. Saudi Arabia shut the local office of Al Jazeera, and accused the network of promoting terrorist groups and supporting rebels in Yemen.
In the UAE, beIN Sport went offline for customers of the main television service providers. Al Jazeera English and Arabic news channels and websites have been offline since the row over Sheikh Tamim’s comments began.
The scale of the crisis also reverberated globally. Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said he was saddened by the rift, and called for dialogue to resolve the dispute. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Russia hopes the tensions “will not affect the general determination to fight terrorism”.
Fifa said it remained in “regular contact with Qatar” which is scheduled to host the 2022 football World Cup. However, Reinhard Grindel, head of Germany’s soccer federation and a member of Fifa’s ruling council, said: “The soccer community worldwide should agree in principle that big tournaments can’t be played in countries that actively support terror.
“We take note very attentively and with concern of the current, serious accusations.”
* Additional by Nick Webster, Saleh Al Shaibany and Ola Salem