Saudi Arabia Shuts Al Jazeera Channel In Qatar Row

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Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Monday shut the local office of Al Jazeera, Qatar’s influential satellite channel, hours after the kingdom and other Arab powers cut ties over Doha’s alleged support for Islamists and Iran.

Riyadh views Al Jazeera as critical of its government, but the outlet says it is an independent news service giving a voice to everyone in the region. The move was announced by state television.

The Arab world’s strongest powers cut ties with Qatar over alleged support for Islamists and Iran, re-opening a festering wound just two weeks after US President Donald Trump’s demand for Muslim states to fight terrorism.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut relations with Qatar in a coordinated move. Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives joined in later.

Qatar denounced the moves as based on lies about it supporting militants. It has often been accused of being a funding source for Islamists, as has Saudi Arabia.

Iran, long at odds with Saudi Arabia and a behind-the-scenes target of the move, blamed Trump’s visit last month to Riyadh.

Closing all transport ties with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave, and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatari planes from landing and forbade them from crossing their airspace.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia stopped exports of white sugar to Qatar, a potential hit to consumers during the holy month of Ramadan, when demand is high. Some residents in Qatar have begun stockpiling food and supplies, Qatari media reported.

Along with Egypt, however, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are potentially vulnerable, being highly dependent on Qatar for liquified natural gas.

Qatar has for years presented itself as a mediator and power broker for the region’s many disputes, but Egypt and the Gulf Arab states resent Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as a political foe.

Muslim Brotherhood groups allied to Doha are now mostly on the backfoot in the region, especially after a 2013 military takeover in Egypt ousted the elected Islamist president.

The former army chief and now president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along with the new government’s allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, blacklist the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

In cutting relations, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups and broadcasting their ideology, an apparent reference to Qatar’s influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera.

It accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain. Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting a war in Yemen.

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.”

Qatar denied it was interfering in the affairs of others.The diplomatic broadside threatens the international prestige of Qatar, home to a large U.S. military base and set to host the 2022 World Cup.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a phone conservation with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani on Monday, called for a resolution to differences between Qatar and other Arab countries through talks, the ministry said.

It also said “a serous concern has been expressed by the appearance of a new hotbed of tension within the Arab world”.

Iran, Turkey and the United States all called for the sides to resolve their differences.

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.

The economic fallout was already in focus as Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Ethihad Airways, Dubai’s Emirates Airline and budget carriers Flydubai and Air Arabia said they would suspend all flights to and from Doha from Tuesday morning until further notice.

Qatar Airways said on its official website it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.

Qatar’s stock market index sank 7.3 percent with some of the market’s top blue chips hardest hit and some Egyptian banks said they were halting dealing with Qatari banks.