Kuwait attempts to ease tensions as Arab states freeze out Qatar

A Kuwaiti trader follows the stock market at the Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE) in Kuwait City. Picture: Getty
A Kuwaiti trader follows the stock market at the Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE) in Kuwait City. Picture: Getty
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Kuwait is trying to mediate in a Gulf crisis between Qatar and its Arab neighbours which have severed ties with the energy-rich travel hub and moved to isolate it from the outside world.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced on Monday they would cut diplomatic ties over the state’s alleged support of terrorist groups including Isalmic State and Al-Qaeda.

Yemen’s internationally backed government, which has lost the 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.

In an interview with Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Kuwait’s ruler had asked Qatar’s emir to hold off on giving a speech about the crisis late on Monday night.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani “received a call from the emir of Kuwait asking him to postpone it in order to give time to solve the crisis”, Sheikh Mohammed said.

Still, the minister struck a defiant tone, rejecting those “trying to impose their will on Qatar or intervene in its internal affairs”.

The state-run Kuwait News Agency reported Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah spoke with Qatar’s emir on Monday evening and urged him to give a chance to efforts that could ease tensions. The call came after a senior Saudi royal arrived in Kuwait with a message from the Saudi king. An Omani diplomat travelled to Qatar on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Philippines announced it will temporarily suspend the deployment of Filipino workers to Qatar.

Labour secretary Silvestre Bello said the ban took effect on Tuesday, but there is no plan yet to repatriate the more than 200,000 Filipino workers in Qatar. More than one million Filipinos reside and work in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

Football’s governing body Fifa said it remained in regular contact with Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup.

Saudi Arabia said it was cutting ties due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group 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”.

Qatar has denied funding extremists, although Western officials have accused it of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists like al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

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

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 yesterday and customers are being offered a refund.

Saudi Arabia meanwhile said it will revoke Qatar Airways’ operating licences and close the airline’s offices in the kingdom within 48 hours.

The Saudi ports authority says Qatari-flagged shipping vessels are barred from docking.