Sunday , September 23 2018

Turks bid to avoid escalation of crisis


ANKARA/DOHA, June 14, (Agencies): Turkey said on Wednesday Qatar’s rift with fellow Gulf Arab states and Egypt was damaging the Islamic world and it would do all it could by diplomatic channels to prevent any escalation. President Tayyip Erdogan, who has cultivated close ties to Doha while preserving relations with Saudi Arabia, dispatched his foreign minister to Doha in a bid to solve a dispute raising concern across the Middle East and beyond.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have broken off ties and imposed sanctions on Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and courting regional rival Iran — allegations Doha denies. “Our main priority as part of our efforts with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries is to solve this through negotiations, not to escalate the crisis,” Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told an Ankara news conference.

“Today we are having to tackle many problems such as DAESH (Islamic State), the ongoing war in Syria, the fight against terrorism and poverty. Amid all this, tensions further escalating in the region through such a crisis would mean wasting of the region’s resources and opportunities.” Turkey and Qatar have both provided support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and backed rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Conservative Gulf neighbours have long viewed Qatar’s outgoing foreign policy with suspicion.

The Gulf Arab states have not made public any demands of Qatar but a journalist with the state-funded Al Jazeera network has shared a list that includes Qatar severing diplomatic ties with Iran and expelling members of the Palestinian Hamas group and the Muslim Brotherhood who live in Doha. The list of demands also includes ending support for “terrorist organizations” and ceasing “interference” in Egyptian affairs, charges Qatar denies.

Kalin said a Turkish military base in Qatar, set up before the regional spat, was established to ensure the security of the whole region and did not pose any military threat to any other country. Turkey approved plans last week to deploy more troops to the base after the crisis began. But it was not immediately clear if they arrived. Qatar, which imported 80 percent of its food from bigger Gulf Arab neighbours before the diplomatic shutdown, has been talking to Iran and Turkey to secure food and water.

At Qatar’s Hamad port on Wednesday workers were busy unloading containers of food and building materials, while another ship carrying livestock, including chickens and sheep from Australia had docked at the port. “The first vessel on that service is to arrive Friday and will run once a week,” he added. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu flew to Doha for a meeting with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during a tour that may also include a visit to Saudi Arabia. There was no word either from Qatar or Saudi Arabia about the visit. The effects of the dispute could widen beyond the region.

Mood hopeful …
US Progress has been made towards resolving the crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors after senior US officials met leading players in the standoff, the State Department said Tuesday. “I would characterize the mood and the approach to that as being one that is hopeful, that believes that the worst is behind us,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. Earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, whose government accuses Qatar of sponsoring extremist groups and has closed its border. Tillerson and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have been working the telephones attempting to de-escalate the crisis between Riyadh and Qatar, which hosts a huge US air base. Nauert refused to say whether Washington regards Qatar as a sponsor of terror or whether the closure of the border and ban on Qatari flights in Saudi airspace amount to a “blockade”. “Let’s keep in mind that everyone has agreed or these parties are working toward an agreement of combating terrorism, and that is the main focus,” she said.

“And let’s not get bogged down in all the details about who’s calling what when. This is trending in a positive direction. And let’s stay focused on that so that we can continue to fight the war on terror.” Earlier, appearing alongside Tillerson — who last week had urged that the “blockade” be eased — Jubeir had insisted: “It’s not a blockade.”

Bahrain detains citizen
Bahraini authorities have detained a citizen for sympathising with Qatar on social media, the attorney general said Wednesday, after authorities warned that sympathising with Doha was tantamount to a criminal offence. The department of cyber crime referred a case to the public prosecutor’s office in which “a person of interest had posted comments to social networks that constitute a violation” of a ban against sympathising with boycotthit Qatar, said attorney general Ahmed al-Hammadi, head of Bahrain’s Terrorist Crimes Commission. “The prosecution has begun investigating the matter, and the suspect has been interrogated and is being held in custody,” Hammadi said.

Bahrain’s strict cyber crime law prohibits the expression of dissent online, including via social media. Manama, which has had territorial disputes in the past with Doha, has announced it would jail Qatar sympathisers, following a similar decision by the UAE. “Any expression of sympathy with the government of Qatar or opposition to the measures taken by the government of Bahrain, whether through social media, Twitter or any other form of communication, is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine,” the interior ministry said last week.

Respect rights …
UN The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain appear to be violating people’s human rights by threatening to jail or fine them for expressing sympathy for Qatar, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said on Wednesday. The four states, which have branded dozens of people and entities with alleged links to Qatar as terrorists, must respect citizens’ rights, Zeid said. “It is becoming clear that the measures being adopted are overly broad in scope and implementation, and have the potential to seriously disrupt the lives of thousands of women, children and men, simply because they belong to one of the nationalities involved in the dispute,” Zeid said in a statement. He said directives issued by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to address the humanitarian needs of families with joint nationalities appeared to be inadequate, and his office had received reports of specific individuals being ordered to return home or to leave the country they are residing in.

“Among those likely to be badly affected are couples in mixed marriages, and their children; people with jobs or businesses based in States other than that of their nationality; and students studying in another country,” he said. “I am also extremely troubled to hear that the UAE and Bahrain are threatening to jail and fine people who express sympathy for Qatar or opposition to their own governments’ actions, as this would appear to be a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression or opinion.”

Qatar withdraws troops
Qatar said on Wednesday it had withdrawn its peacekeeping troops from the disputed frontier between Djibouti and Eritrea, after the two East African countries sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies in their standoff with Qatar. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry did not give a reason for the move but it comes as Doha faces a diplomatic crisis with some of its Arab neighbours.

They cut ties a week ago, accusing Qatar of backing Islamists and Iran, something Doha strongly denies. “Qatar has been an impartial diplomatic mediator in resolving crises and disputes between brotherly and friendly countries and will continue to be a major player in the international community,” the ministry said in a statement. It did not specify the number of troops affected but said it had informed Djibouti’s government of the withdrawal. According to a UN monitoring group, Qatar had said around 200 troops were stationed there.

Qatar, which has had close ties with Eritrea, deployed a small contingent of peacekeepers along the border between the Horn of Africa neighbours in 2010 after clashes broke out over disputed territory in June 2008. It also helped mediate a peace deal. Djibouti downgraded ties with Qatar last week, saying it was acting in “solidarity with the international coalition combating terrorism and extremist violence, as well as with the Gulf and Arab countries”.

Eritrea’s Information Ministry said on Monday the decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to sever ties was a move “in the right direction”. It is the second time that Qatari troops have come home since the rift among Gulf states began. A Qatari contingent stationed in Saudi Arabia as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen returned last week. The forces had been stationed in the south of the kingdom to reinforce Saudi defences against Houthi attacks. Saudi Arabia had said Doha was expelled from the coalition set up in 2015 to fight the Houthi group that controls much of northern Yemen.


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