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8 juin 2017 4 08 /06 /juin /2017 06:44

Gulf tension: More threats at Qatar as Russia, US pulled into crisis


Qatar in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure food and water supplies, agencies report

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf nations severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a coordinated move on Monday (AFP/file)
MEE and agencies's picture

Moscow has dismissed allegations that Russian hackers helped spark tension between Qatar and its former allies, as the growing Gulf crisis pulled the Kremlin and White House into its orbit.

US officials believed hackers were responsible for the false news story on the state-owned Qatar News Agency last week which precipitated the conflict, CNN reported on Tuesday

Andrei Krutskikh, a Kremlin advisor on cybersecurity, told the Interfax news agency: "Whatever happens it is hackers. It's a stale claim and as ever there is zero evidence, and conclusions are drawn before the incident is even investigated."

'Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis is being based on misinformation'

- Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Qatar Foreign Minister

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a coordinated move on Monday, with Yemen, Libya's eastern-based government and the Maldives following suit later. The shutdown came just two weeks after the demand by US President Doanld Trump for Arab states to fight terrorism.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigations sent a team to the capital, Doha, to assist Qatari authorities in finding out what happened.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, told CNN on Tuesday that the hacking of Qatar's national news agency was "proved by the FBI".

"Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis is being based on misinformation," he said. "Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI."

Doha in talks about shortages

Meanwhile moves against Qatar have continued as former allies ramp up the pressure.

Already, 85 percent of Qatar’s imports have been severed and food trucks at the Saudi border have been forced to turn around.

The United Arab Emirates warned on Wednesday that anyone showing sympathy with the emirate over sanctions imposed by its Gulf neighbours could face up to 15 years in prison.

"The UAE attorney general warns that any participation in conversation or social media or any other means that demonstrates sympathy to Qatar or protests the position of the UAE and other states against the Qatari government may face a prison sentence of three to 15 years and a fine of no less than 500,000 dirhams ($136,125)," said a statement carried by the Gulf News and Al-Bayan newspapers.

The four governments also closed their airspaces to all Qatari flights and banned Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabia has closed Qatar's only land border.

Article 29 of the UAE’s cybercrime law criminalises any online publication carrying information "with intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the state or... any of its symbols".

Jordan said it is reducing level of diplomatic representation in Qatar, cancelling local registration for Al-Jazeera TV, according to an Associated Press report late on Tuesday.

Hamas shocked at funding threat

Hamas expressed shock on Wednesday at Saudi Arabia's demand that Qatar end its support for the Palestinian movement.

On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said that to rebuild relations, Doha must cut its support for "extremist" groups, including Hamas.

He said Qatar-supported Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, "undermines the Palestinian Authority."

But in a statement on its website, Hamas said the party felt "deep regret and disapproval" at the Saudi statement.

"These statements are a shock to our Palestinian people and to our Arab and Islamic nation, which considers the Palestinian cause its central cause," the statement said.

And Qatar said on Tuesday that another ultimatum issued by Saudi Arabia and its allies – that the emirate's citizens leave the kingdom by mid-June - is a violation of human rights that requires UN intervention.

Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, chairman of Qatar's national human rights committee, said that the move would break up families and disrupt young people's education.

"We have moved from severing diplomatic relations to a comprehensive blockade of international conventions and human rights conventions, not only for Qataris but also for citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries," Marri told a press conference on Tuesday evening.

"Qataris who study in Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain, we've had information that they were requested to leave immediately and they were not allowed to continue their final semester exams," he added.

'Trumpification' of relations in the region

The United States was pulled further into the crisis on Tuesday when President Donald Trump effectively backed the Gulf blockade of Qatar.

In a series of tweets, Trump said that his trip to the Middle East in May was "already paying off" as Gulf leaders followed through on their promise to take a hard line on the funding of militant groups.

He said "all reference" to funding extremism pointed to Qatar.

"So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!" Trump said in a series of Twitter posts.

'Such a Trumpification of relations with one another is particularly dangerous in a region that is already rife with crises'

- German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel

The crisis is continuing to impact world markets, which have seen little movement during the crisis. Traders are also anxious about other events, including the UK election, the European Central Bank policy meeting and the testimony of sacked FBI boss James Comey to Congress about Trump's possible campaign links to Russia.

Germany on Wednesday expressed alarm at the sudden escalation of tensions, warning of the dangers of "Trumpification" of relations in the region.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is due to meet Saudi Arabia's foreign minister on Wednesday, said he was surprised by the intensity of the tensions erupting in the Gulf region.

"Such a Trumpification of relations with one another is particularly dangerous in a region that is already rife with crises," he told Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday.

"Qatar is apparently to be more or less completely isolated and existentially targeted," he said, adding: "A further escalation serves no one. The Middle East is a political and military powder keg."

Gabriel, a longtime critic of German arms sales, also attacked Trump's recent large US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf.




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