Saudi, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain and Yemen isolate Qatar over 'terrorism' as rift deepens
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives severed their ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting terrorism in an unprecedented rift between the most powerful members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The coordinated move dramatically escalates a dispute over Qatar's support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement, and adds accusations that Doha even backs the agenda of regional arch-rival Iran.
The three Gulf states announced the closure of transport ties with Qatar and gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries.
Qatar was also expelled from a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
"Qatar's practices of dealing with the (Houthi) coup militias and supporting extremist groups became clear," the Yemeni government said in a statement, adding that it supported a decision by the Saudi-led coalition to remove Qatar from its ranks.
Libya's eastern-based government also followed regional allies in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, its foreign minister, Mohamed Dayri, confirmed.
The government, which sits in the eastern city of Bayda, has little authority within Libya, and is appointed by a parliament that also sits in the east and is aligned with powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar. They have spurned a United Nations-backed, internationally recognised government in the capital, Tripoli.
Qatar slams 'campaign of incitement'
Qatar slammed the decisions to sever ties with it, saying they were "unjustified" and aimed to put Doha under political "guardianship".
"The measures are unjustified and are based on false and baseless claims," the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to the unprecedented steps.
"The aim is clear, and it is to impose guardianship on the state. This by itself is a violation of its (Qatar's) sovereignty as a state," it added.
"The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications," the Qatari foreign ministry said.
It added that, as a member of the GCC, it was committed to its charter, respected the sovereignty of other states and did not interfere in their affairs.
These are more severe measures than during a previous eight-month rift in 2014, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. At that time, travel links were maintained and Qataris were not expelled.
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir about Iran and Israel.
Its Gulf Arab neighbours responded with anger, blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based state-owned satellite channel Al Jazeera.
A split between Doha and its closest allies can have repercussions around the Middle East where Gulf states have used their financial and political power to influence events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Qatar shares a massive offshore gas field with the Islamic Republic and is also due to host the World Cup in 2022.
'Pakistan has no plans to cut ties with Qatar'
Pakistan has no immediate plans to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said on Monday.
Zakaria, in response to news of the rift between Qatar and five other Middle Eastern nations, stated that Pakistan "has no such plans".
"At the moment there is nothing on Qatar issue, (we) will issue a statement if some development takes place," Zakaria said.
US downplays rift
United States (US) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he does not expect a growing rift between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours to degrade unity in the fight against militancy.
Tillerson told a news conference in Sydney that the rift will have no implications for the effort against the militant Islamic State group.
Qatar houses the sprawling Al Udeid Air Base, which is home to the US military's Central Command and some 10,000 American troops.
It isn't clear if the decision will affect American military operations.
Central Command officials and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Airlines suspend operations
All the nations have announced plans to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country.
Saudi Arabia's General Authority of Civil Aviation (Gaca) said on Monday it has banned all Qatari planes from landing in the kingdom's airports.
A statement from the aviation body said the decision was effective immediately and involves all the Qatari private and commercial airplanes which will be banned from crossing Saudi airspace.
Gaca also said all Saudi commercial and private air operators shall be banned from operating to Qatar.
Qatar Airways announced that it has suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia with immediate effect.
"Qatar Airways has suspended all flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" until 11:59 GMT the same day, a statement from the Doha-based carrier said.
A spokeswoman added that it was unclear if the suspension would be extended.
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, Dubai-based flydubai and long-haul carrier Emirates all announced suspension of flights to Qatar amid the escalating diplomatic rift.
Etihad said on its website Monday its last flights “until further notice” would leave early Tuesday morning, but gave no reason for the decision.
Dubai-based budget carrier flydubai announced suspension of flights to and from Doha from Tuesday after the UAE severed ties with Qatar.
Long-haul carrier Emirates also said it would suspend all flights to Qatar beginning Tuesday until further notice.
Accusations against Qatar
Saudi state news agency, SPA, accused Doha of backing militant groups and spreading their violent ideology.
"(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and Al Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly," SPA alleged.
The statement went on to accuse Qatar of supporting what it described as Iran-backed militants in its restive and largely Shia-populated eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, said on its state news agency that Qatar's policy "threatens Arab national security and sows the seeds of strife and division within Arab societies according to a deliberate plan aimed at the unity and interests of the Arab nation."
Bahrain's Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital of Doha within 48 hours.
The statement further said that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.
Bahrain blamed Qatar's “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.
“The Maldives took the decision [of severing ties with Qatar] because of its firm opposition to activities that encourage terrorism and extremism,” the government of the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago nation said in a statement.
Despite its reputation as a tourist paradise, the largely Muslim Maldives is struggling with a large number of youths enlisting to fight for the militant Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East.