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Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, UAE cut off relations with Qatar, accuse country of supporting terrorism

ABU DHABI, Uae — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have broken off relations with Qatar, in the worst diplomatic crisis to hit Gulf Arab states in decades.

The three Gulf countries and Egypt have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region. Qatar — which shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia — has rejected the accusations calling them “unjustified” and “baseless”.

Latest developments:

Qataris given 14 days to leave the UAE Qatar ejected from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen over alleged support of ISIS and al-Qaeda, according to Saudi state media Emirates airline says it’s suspending all flights to and from Doha starting Tuesday morning Kuwait, Oman only Gulf Cooperation Council members with ties to Qatar.

Saudi Arabia’s state news agency announced the move to sever ties with Qatar Monday, saying it was seeking to “protect national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.”

The Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels also expelled Qatar from its alliance, alleging support of “al-Qaeda and Daesh [also known as ISIS], as well as dealing with the rebel militias”, according to Saudi’s state media agency.

All ports of entry between the two countries will be closed, according to the statement.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar form a close regional alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council, established in 1981. The union is viewed as one of the most influential in the Middle East. Kuwait and Oman are the only remaining GCC members to maintain ties with Qatar.

Simmering tensions

Monday’s decision comes two weeks after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt blocked several Qatari media outlets — including Al Jazeera — over comments allegedly made by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Hamad Al Thani. Al Thani reportedly hailed Iran as an “Islamic power” and criticized US President Donald Trump’s policy towards Tehran.

The Emir’s comments appeared on Qatar’s official news agency, but Qatar claimed that the website was “hacked”, the report fabricated by the culprits.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are at odds over a number of regional issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and what Saudis see as Tehran’s growing influence in the kingdom’s sphere of influence — especially in Syria, Lebanon and neighboring Yemen.

“There are two competing theories,” Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations says about the origin of the spat.

“One is that Saudi Arabia felt emboldened after Donald Trump’s visit, and Trump’s administration has had a strong stance on Iran, which is backed by Qatar.

“Another theory is that this is a product of month’s tension, all brought to a breaking point after the Qatar news agency hacking story.”

Trump recently visited the Saudi capital and addressed 55 Muslim leaders in a landmark speech urging them to double down on efforts to combat terrorism.

Flights to be suspended

Qatari nationals are to be banned from entering the UAE, and Qatari residents of the country have been given two-week notice to leave the leave the country.

In a statement, the UAE cited Qatar’s “ongoing policies that rattle the security and sovereignty of the region as well as its manipulation and evasion of its commitments and treaties.”

Dubai-based airline Emirates said it is suspending all flights to and from Doha starting Tuesday. Emirates said it was instructed to do so by the UAE government.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways will also suspend its Doha flights on Wednesday. Other airways in the countries involved are expected to follow suit.

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s foreign ministry said it was suspending diplomatic relations “in order to preserve its national security,” according to a statement.

Qatari diplomats had 48 hours to leave and airspace and ports between the countries would be closed within 24 hours of Bahrain’s announcement, it said. Bahrain said its decision was based on what it said was Qatar’s destabilizing actions.

In a statement, Egypt said that Qatar had taken an “anti-Egyptian course” and that Cairo had been unable to dissuade it from supporting terrorism.

US offers support

Speaking from Australia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the respective countries to work out their differences, and offered US assistance to do so.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences. And if there is any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC remain unified,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson and US Defense Secretary James Mattis are in Sydney for talks with their Australian counterparts.

The US’ biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East are located at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base.

The sprawling base 20 miles southwest of the Qatari capital of Doha is home to some 11,000 US military personnel.