Qatar blockade “tearing apart Gulf unity”

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Qatar said the two-week blockade of the country by its Gulf neighbours was tearing apart the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, all members of the GCC, have cut off air, land and sea links with Qatar, after accusing Doha of supporting terrorism and opening up to arch-rival Iran. Doha, which admits support for political groups such as the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, denies backing violent extremists.

The gas-rich state said the blockade was having a “humanitarian impact” as Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini families were forced home by their governments on Monday at the end of a two-week grace period.

“Never in the history of the Gulf Co-operation Council has any GCC government allowed politics to disrupt the social fabric of our union,” said Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed al-Thani, director of Qatar’s Government Communications Office. “But people throughout the GCC have rallied to support Qatar. They know who is responsible for this crisis and they will hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Kuwait and the US have launched separate mediation efforts to resolve the worst Gulf crisis in decades that is undermining the unity of the region in the face of threats from Isis, the radical Sunni group.

Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, expressed concern about the crisis which is in its third week, adding that regional tensions should be tackled through political engagement “and not by imposing unilateral measures”.

“We are particularly concerned about the effect that such measures may have on the region, particularly on those people who have dual citizenship, families, but also the economic and security links which bind the different GCC states in a very strong and solid fashion,” she said.

Speaking after talks in Luxembourg with European foreign ministers, Ms Mogherini said the Gulf dispute “doesn’t seem to be a crisis that is ready to be solved tomorrow”.

Sheikh Saif said the blockading nations had offered no formula for resolution. He argued that they wanted to attack Qatar’s reputation in the media, rather than addressing any legitimate grievances.

The propaganda war has seen both sides employing their formidable media resources against one another, pitting Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel against Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya and Abu Dhabi’s Sky News Arabia.

Expressions of support for Qatar have been banned in the three blockading Gulf states.

UAE and Saudi officials have also been briefing media in western capitals to explain their grounds for taking action against Doha.

UAE officials have called for Qatar to commit to stop backing extremism before talks can begin on what measures it wants Doha to implement to ease the crisis. On Monday, Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s under secretary for foreign affairs, warned that Qatar’s isolation could last for years. Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, said last week that a list of demands would be issued “fairly soon”.

Sheikh Saif struck back, saying the blockading nations had offered no formula for resolving the crisis and were more interested in attacking Qatar’s image than addressing “legitimate grievances”.

He said Qatar was focusing on “efforts on fighting the terrorists on the ground and on working cooperatively with our allies around the world to prevent terrorism before it happens”.

The US, which bases its regional military operations at the large al-Udeid base south of Doha, has praised Qatar’s co-operation in the war on terrorism, but has also called on the country to do more to prevent extremist financing.

“It is unfortunate that our neighbours have chosen to invest their time and resources in a baseless propaganda campaign,” he said.

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