Saudi Arabia and three Arab countries severed ties to Qatar yesterday and moved to cut off land, sea and air routes to the energy-rich nation that is home to a major US military base, accusing it of supporting regional terror groups.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates made no demands of Qatar as their decision plunged the international travel hub into chaos and ignited the biggest diplomatic crisis in the Gulf since the 1991 war against Iraq.
Qatar, which will host the 2022 FifaWorld Cup and is home to some 10,000 American troops, criticised the move as a “violation of its sovereignty.” It long has denied supporting militant groups and described the crisis as being fuelled 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 imports most of its food, sparking a run on supermarkets. The four countries began withdrawing their diplomatic staff from Qatar as regional airlines announced they’d suspend service to its capital, Doha.
The move came just weeks after US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and vowed to improve ties with both Riyadh and Cairo to combat regional terror groups and contain Iran. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the move was rooted in longstanding differences and urged the parties to resolve them.
Saudi Arabia said it took the decision to cut diplomatic ties due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region” including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and groups 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 countries all 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.
All the nations also said they planned to cut air and sea traffic. 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. The Qatar Stock Exchange fell more than 7 percent.
Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers that routinely flies through Saudi airspace, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Some of its flights were going through Iranian airspace Monday. Saudi Arabia said it would begin blocking all Qatari flights at midnight.
Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said there was “no legitimate justification” for the countries’ decision, though it vowed its citizens wouldn’t be affected by it.
“The Qatari Government will take all necessary measures to ensure this and to thwart attempts to influence and harm the Qatari society and economy,” it said.
Premier UAE airlines Etihad and Emirates announced they would suspend flights to Qatar, as did budget carriers Air Arabia and FlyDubai. Bahrain’s Gulf Air and Saudia joined them.
Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command. Central Command officials and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr Tillerson said he didn’t believe the diplomatic crisis would affect the war against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.