Rift in the Gulf widens as US sends mixed sig­nals

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

DOHA: It has been a week since sev­eral Arab coun­tries – led by Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE) and Egypt – sev­ered ties and im­posed an eco­nomic block­ade on Qatar after they ac­cused it of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism.

The mood in this wa­ter­side Per­sian Gulf cap­i­tal is a mix of fear, un­cer­tainty and re­silience as res­i­dents strug­gle to cope with a po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic cri­sis few imag­ined would so dra­mat­i­cally up­end their world.

On Fri­day, US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son urged the Saudi-led bloc to im­me­di­ately ease the block­ade, say­ing it has led to “un­in­tended con­se­quences” in­clud­ing food short­ages, sep­a­rated fam­i­lies and chil­dren be­ing “pulled out of school”.

He added that the block­ade was also harm­ing Amer­i­can and in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses, while “hin­der­ing US mil­i­tary ac­tions in the re­gion and the cam­paign against the Is­lamic State”.

Less than an hour later, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­peared to un­der­mine Tiller­son’s plea by telling re­porters in Wash­ing­ton that Qatar has his­tor­i­cally been a “fun­der of ter­ror­ism at a very high level”.

Mem­bers of the Saudi-led bloc wel­comed Trump’s de­mand that Qatar end its “fund­ing and its ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy” but they have kept silent on Tiller­son’s call to ease the eco­nomic pres­sure on the Gulf state. The UAE gov­ern­ment praised Trump’s “lead­er­ship in chal­leng­ing Qatar’s trou­bling sup­port for ex­trem­ism”.

Saudi Ara­bia’s of­fi­cial news agency re­ported on Tiller­son’s brief­ing on Satur­day, but made no men­tion of his de­scrip­tion of the block­ade as be­ing harm­ful to or­di­nary res­i­dents in Qatar.

The Saudi-led bloc has sev­ered links to Qatar by land, sea and air. Mem­ber states have also given Qatari na­tion­als liv­ing abroad two weeks to leave their coun­tries, as well as for any of their own ci­ti­zens to re­turn from Qatar.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said on Fri­day that Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain and the UAE “are toy­ing with the lives of thou­sands of Gulf res­i­dents as part of their dis­pute with Qatar”.

James Lynch, deputy di­rec­tor of Amnesty’s global is­sues pro­gramme, said: “Peo­ple from across the re­gion – not only from Qatar, but also from the states im­ple­ment­ing th­ese mea­sures – risk los­ing jobs and hav­ing their ed­u­ca­tion dis­rupted.

“We are wor­ried about los­ing ac­cess to our rel­a­tives in other Gulf Co-op­er­a­tion Coun­cil coun­tries,” said Walaa El-Kadi, a Le­banese woman who has lived much of her life in Qatar. Wash­ing­ton Post

PIC­TURE: AP

Al-Jazeera staff work at the TV sta­tion in Doha, Qatar. The Arab news net­work has been thrust into the cen­tre of the story this week as Qatar came un­der vir­tual siege by its Gulf neigh­bours, pres­sur­ing it to shut down the TV chan­nel that has in­fu­ri­ated them with its cov­er­age for 20 years.

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