US State Dept approves $1.4 billion in military sales to Saudi

06 Juin, 2017, 10:13 | Author: Claudine Rigal

Saudi Arabia and other Arab powers severed diplomatic ties Monday with Qatar and moved to isolate the energy-rich nation that is home to a major US military base, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and backing Iran.

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the Maldives joined Saudi Arabia and Egypt in severing relations with Qatar, which hosts the largest USA airbase in the region.

Qatari officials have since denied accusations that they fund the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and in Syria, including al-Qaida's branch, once known as the Nusra Front.

The commercial exchange between Qatar and the world in 2016 stood at QAR 324 billion, of which 14% was conducted with Arab countries and 12% with GCC states.

Bahrain says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar amid a deepening rift between Gulf Arab nations.

Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, through which the tiny Gulf nation and global travel hub imports most of its food, sparking a run on supermarkets.

In one store queues were up to 25-people deep as shoppers piled trollies and baskets high with supplies from rice to nappies.

Al-Jazeera news agency, which is based in Doha, Qatar's capital, was forced to shut down its office in Saudi Arabia on Monday. In the UAE, a subsidiary satellite network, beIn Sports, went offline.

Saudi leaders are also anxious about Qatar's longtime links to Iran, the Shiite Muslim power vying for regional influence with Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni Muslim power.

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"The measures are unjustified and are based on false and baseless claims", Qatar said.

He tells NPR it is not entirely clear why longstanding issues have boiled over now, but notes, "We can't ignore the fact that Donald Trump was in the region not too long ago, which really empowered Saudi Arabia and the UAE".

The dispute saw Qatari share prices close down 7.58 percent.

Until then, Qataris who often cross the border to shop in Saudi Arabia will be blocked, and several airlines have suspended service: Qatar Airways suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia; Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier, suspended flights to Qatar "until further notice"; and Emirates, which is Dubai-based, will suspend Qatar flights starting Tuesday.

The ministry's statement said Qatari citizens needed to leave Bahrain within two weeks and that air and sea traffic between the two countries would be halted.

"Qatar was able over the past 10 years or so to punch above its weight because of its investments and these media outlets, which support Qatari foreign policy", said H.A. Hellyer, a Cairo-based nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Turkish officials have offered to mediate, which is promising given their good relations with both Qatar and other Gulf countries.

The diplomatic row follows President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago - his first trip overseas as president, where he convened a summit of Arab and Muslim allies. "We think it is important that the GCC remain unified", Tillerson said during a visit to Australia, adding, "I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified - the united - fight against terrorism in the region or globally".

He encouraged Qatar and its neighbours to "sit down together".

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