Friday, 9 June 2017

QATAR: Qatar Never Experienced Such Hostility, Will Not Surrender

Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar had never before experienced such hostility.

Bahrain on Monday announced it was cutting diplomatic ties with Doha, delivering the first of a series of coordinated diplomatic strikes that has left the region in confusion.

It happened at 5:50am local time, on the 10th day of Ramadan. Within 10 minutes, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's biggest power, had followed suit. The kingdom announced via state media that it was taking action to protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.

By 6:20am, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had also announced cuts in ties with Qatar.

At least three other countries, including Egypt, joined in later in the day. But Oman and Kuwait, two other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is also a member, remained neutral.

Qatar strongly denied the allegations and said that was a campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication.

Despite mediation efforts led by Kuwait, the standoff continues five days into the dispute.

Along with the severing of diplomatic ties, a Riyadh-led blockade was imposed against Doha. Saudi, which shares the only land border with Qatar, shut the crossing and halted transport of goods into its gas-rich neighbor.

Saudi, UAE and Bahrain also closed their airspace to flights from and to Qatar, forcing airlines to remove Doha from their list of destinations. The move stranded thousands of passengers and resulted in lost revenues to airlines caught up in the rift.

The International Air Transport Association pleaded that air links be restored, but its request has so far been met with no response. Qataris were even barred from transiting through the UAE.

Qatari citizens were also ordered out of the three countries, while Saudi, UAE and Bahraini nationals were told to leave Qatar within two weeks.

Sea links were also cut. At the UAE's port of Fujairah, all vessels flying the Qatari flag, or destined for Qatar, were not allowed to go through.

Tankers carrying liquefied petroleum gas from Qatar also had to change course in the Gulf of Aden. Another ship was also diverted from Suez Canal in Egypt.

Even as countries such as the UAE blocked Qatari exports like gas and aluminum, Qatar continues to let natural gas flowing to UAE, making it possible for Dubai and Abu Dhabi to keep meeting their energy needs.

Amid the crisis, analysts have estimated that the fallout could cost Gulf economies billions of dollars.

As Saudi and its allies tightened the noose on Qatar, other countries in the region stepped in.

Turkey and Iran opened their airspace to more Qatar flights. Both countries also offered food shipments after a rush for items was reported in many Qatari grocery shops in the immediate aftermath of the rift. Iran said food shipment can reach Doha in 12 hours.

An estimated 40 percent of food items in Qatar are transported through Saudi Arabia. Qatar quickly said there was no need for panic-buying as supplies are adequate.

Following the threats made against Qatar, its close ally Turkey voted to to accelerate the deployment of troops to its base in the peninsula.

Reports said that the base, which was set up following a 2014 agreement, could accommodate as many as 5,000 Turkish troops.

Turkey, which also enjoys strong relations with Saudi, said it will work to help resolve the crisis peacefully.

While Ankara's move to deploy the soldiers is not anti-Saudi, it is clearly pro-Qatari, one analyst was quoted as saying.

As accusations heated up, Saudi signalled that it was escalating the row in the media, first by shutting down the local office of Al Jazeera.

Days before the diplomatic spat boiled over, Al Jazeera's websites were already blocked in Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

There was an unprecedented escalation from the Gulf mass media,but Qatar has not met this escalation with escalation, Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said.

Now there are demands to shut down Al Jazeera completely.

Egypt urged the UN Security Council to launch an investigation into claims that Qatar paid a ransom of up to $1bn (£770m) to secure the release of royal family members kidnapped while hunting in southern Iraq.

Reporters Without Borders said the broadcaster has become a "collateral victim of the diplomatic offensive against Qatar.

Closing Al Jazeera's bureaux is a political decision that amounts to censoring this TV broadcaster, Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the group's Middle East desk, was quoted as saying. Al Jazeera said the decision was not justified.

In addition to targeting news channels, UAE for instance, also blocked BeIn network, a Qatari-owned sports broadcaster.

The emir of Kuwait is trying to mediate the row, carrying out shuttle diplomacy between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In the first hours of the diplomatic scuffle, the United States weighed in, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying it is important that the GCC members remain "unified", adding that he does not think it would affect the fight against terrorism. The US maintains a military base in Qatar, its largest in the Middle East, with an estimated 10,000 troops.

Tillerson's assurances, however, were thrown in doubt after US President Donald Trump wrote a post on social media referencing Qatar when he said leaders of the Middle East had stated that they would take a hard line on funding extremism. He later made a phone call to Qatar's leader to offer help in resolving the crisis.

Instead of diffusing the already heated situation, Trump's tweets only led to more discord.

Hours later, Jordan downgraded its relationship with Qatar and revoked the license of Al Jazeera to operate there. Mauritania also broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar, followed later by Senegal.

Meanwhile, Bahrain ordered a ban on showing sympathy to Qatar on social media, while the UAE warned its residents that they could face 15 years in jail and a fine of as much as $136,000, by posting messages of support for Qatar.

In response, Qatar urged its citizens to take the high-road on social media, telling citizens and residents to mind "Islamic and Arab values" on social media.

On Thursday, even as diplomacy continued with Trump calling on the UAE crown prince and French President Emmanuel Macron calling for all sides to "pursue dialogue", Qatar's adversaries hardened their stance against Doha.

Emirates Post Group announced that it halted postal services to Qatar. The Qatar Airways website was also blocked in the UAE.

Earlier, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said his country is open to any options to protect ourselves from Qatar, as he demanded that Doha distance itself from Iran and stop supporting terrorist organisations. UAE's foreign minister, meanwhile, said there's nothing to negotiate with Qatar.

Earlier, the bloc opposing Qatar had demanded that it stops supporting groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Thursday evening, a joint action by Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt placed 59 individuals and 12 organisations on a terror list. It includes the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousuf al-Qaradawi and 18 prominent Qataris.

On Friday, Qatar dismissed the list as baseless.

The recent joint statement issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE regarding a terror finance watch list once again reinforces baseless allegations that hold no foundation in fact, read a statement from Qatar's government.

Earlier, Qatar's foreign minister had said defiantly that the country would not surrender to the pressure applied to it.

We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said.Foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said he favoured diplomacy to resolve the escalating crisis and that there was no military solution.

SAUDI Arabia and three of its allies have issued a long list of individuals and entities it claims are linked to Qatar over “terrorism”.

In the first joint statement since Qatar was cut off from its neighbours on Monday, Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain published the names of 59 people, including Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi.

The statement has been released in a bid to further their claim that Qatar sponsors and harbours known terrorists and entities.

The list published in the Saudi Gazettealso named 12 entities, among them Qatari-funded charities Qatar Charity and Eid Charity.

The list comes days after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Libya and the Maldives all severed diplomatic ties with gas-rich Qatar, which has been accused of supporting Islamist groups, including some backed by Iran.

Qatar has rejected the claims.

As well as cutting diplomatic relations and ordering Qatari citizens to leave their countries within 14 days, the Gulf states and Egypt banned all flights to and from Qatar.

The seven nations severed ties with the gas-rich emirate which has long exercised an independent streak in its foreign policy in defiance of its neighbours.

In the statement released today the allies accused Doha of harbouring “terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabilise the region including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh (the Islamic State group) and Al-Qaeda”.

This list is connected to Qatar and serves suspicious agendas in an indication of the duality of Qatar policies, the statement from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain read.

It shows that Qatar announces fighting terrorism on one hand and finances and supports and hosts different terrorist organisations on the other hand, they said.

The statement also said the four countries released the names in light of their commitment to fight terrorism, drying up their sources of funding, combating extremist ideology and its dissemination and promotion, and working together to exterminate it and protect all communities.

As the list was released a defiant Qatar said it would not “surrender” and rejected any interference in its foreign policy.

“We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said.

He also said Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani would not leave the country while it was “in blockade”.

Those two, Sa’d al-Ka’bi and Abd al-Latif al-Kawari, are among dozens of individuals and entities named Friday by Saudi Arabia and its three allies.

“The four countries agreed on categorising 59 persons and 12 entities in their list of terrorism,” they said, affirming “that they won’t be lenient in pursuing” such persons and groups.

Along with Qataris, many on the list are individuals and groups from Egypt, Bahrain and Libya.

Riyadh has itself faced accusations of tolerating or even supporting extremists, in particular after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

As the fallout continues, Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera said it was under a widescale cyberattack which had targeted “all systems.”

“Al Jazeera Media Network under cyberattack on all systems, websites & social media platforms,” it said on Twitter.

A later statement from the broadcaster said the attack occurred after a fortnight of increased cyber activities, aimed at its network.

Following the initial reports of a cyberattack, some viewers in the region said they could no longer receive Al-Jazeera television.

Al-Jazeera, one of the largest news organisations in the world, has long been a source of conflict between Qatar and its neighbours, who accuse the broadcaster of bias and fomenting trouble in the region.

Gulf states were outraged by the ransom paid by Doha earlier this year to secure the release of a hunting party, which included members of the Qatari royal family, kidnapped in southern Iraq.