Shared from the 6/6/2017 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

Arab countries move to isolate Qatar

They accuse it of backing terrorists. Saudi Arabia closed its land border, choking off food supplies.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia and other Arab powers severed diplomatic ties Monday with Qatar and moved to isolate the energy-rich nation that is home to a major U.S. military base, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and backing Iran.

The decision plunged Qatar into chaos and ignited the biggest diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf since the 1991 war against Iraq.

Qatar, home to about 10,000 U.S. troops and the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, criticized the move as a “violation of its sovereignty.” It long has denied supporting militant groups and described the crisis as being fueled by “absolute fabrications” stemming from a recent hack of its state-run news agency.

Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, through which the tiny gulf nation and international travel hub imports most of its food, sparking a run on supermarkets.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates began withdrawing their diplomatic staff from Qatar, and regional airlines announced they would suspend service to its capital, Doha. Yemen’s internationally backed government, which no longer holds its capital and large portions of the war-torn country, also cut relations with Qatar, as did the Maldives and one of conflict-ridden Libya’s competing governments.

The move came just two weeks after President Trump visited Saudi Arabia and vowed to improve ties with both Riyadh and Cairo to combat terrorism and contain Iran. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the move was rooted in long-standing differences and urged the parties to resolve them.

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-Qaeda, the Islamic State and militants supported by Iran in the kingdom’s restive Eastern Province.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused Qatar of taking an “antagonist approach” toward Cairo and said “all attempts to stop it from supporting terrorist groups failed.”

The gulf countries ordered their citizens out of Qatar and gave Qataris abroad 14 days to return home to their peninsular nation, whose only land border is with Saudi Arabia. The countries also said they would eject Qatar’s diplomats.

The nations also said they planned to cut air and sea traffic. Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera reported that trucks carrying food had begun lining up on the Saudi side of the border, apparently stranded. The Qatar Stock Exchange fell more than 7 percent.

Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers, has suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain until further notice. On its website, the carrier said the suspension of its flights would take effect Tuesday. Customers affected by the decision are being offered a refund.

Qatar said there was “no legitimate justification” for the countries’ decision, though it vowed its citizens wouldn’t be affected by it.

“The government had already taken the necessary measures and precautions to ensure that normal life continues,” a statement from the Qatari cabinet said. “Seaports will continue to be open for trade and airspace will continue to be open for trade, transport and air travel, with the exception of the countries that have closed their borders and airspace.”

Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the continuing war in Yemen.

Qatar is the site of the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command. Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said the U.S. military had “no plans to change our posture in Qatar.”

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