Gulf rift threatens air travel disruption across region and beyond

Frederick Owens
June 5, 2017

Egypt was the next country to jump on board, with Cairo stating that "the government of the Arab Republic of Egypt has made a decision to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar because of the continued hostility of the Qatari authorities towards Egypt".

The news agency released a statement in which it accused Qatar of "harboring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region".

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, said on its state news agency that Qatar's policy "threatens Arab national security and sows the seeds of strife and division within Arab societies according to a deliberate plan aimed at the unity and interests of the Arab nation".

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. Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera reported trucks carrying food had begun to line up on the Saudi side of the border, apparently stranded.

"We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences", he said in Sydney.

Before Monday, Qatar had appeared unperturbed by the growing tensions.

Doha airport, along with airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have become major hubs after Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways seized a significant chunk of transcontinental travel on routes linking Western countries with Asia and Australasia. Qatar shares a massive offshore gas field with the Islamic Republic.

Qatar's Gulf Arab neighbors responded with anger, blocking Qatari media.

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Qatar long has faced criticism from its Arab neighbors over its support of Islamists.

Monday's announcement came less than a month after US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia to cement ties with Riyadh and called for a united front among Muslim countries against extremism.

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were the first to announce they were cutting ties with Qatar on Monday.

Qatar denies funding extremist groups. However, it remains a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012.

NPR's David Welna, who is traveling with Tillerson and Mattis, notes that the rift among US allies "comes just 10 days after President Trump addressed an anti-terrorism summit of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, and some see Trump's siding there with Sunni monarchs and his rhetoric against Iran as having given a kind of green light to blackballing this Gulf nation".

In a Riyadh speech, Trump urged Muslim leaders from around the world to "drive out" extremists and "terrorists", as Sunni jihadists carry out attacks in many countries.

Last week, the Qatari emir travelled to Kuwait to meet Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah in what was widely seen as an attempt at mediation by the Kuwaitis. Trump asked at the meeting.

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