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Arab states seek to step up pressure on Qatar over 2013 accord

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Four Arab states sought on Monday to pile pressure on Qatar over charges it backs terrorism, saying the publication of a previously secret accord between Riyadh and Doha showed Qatar broke a promise not to meddle in the affairs of Gulf countries.

The text of the 2013 agreement, whose existence was known but whose contents have never before been made public, was first published by CNN on Monday and later released on social media by Saudi officials.

In a joint statement, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt said the publication of the accord, meant to settle a previous dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, “confirms beyond any doubt Qatar’s failure to meet its commitments and its full violation of its pledges.”

In a new round of tension with Qatar, the four states slapped sanctions on Doha on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism, cozying up to Iran, backing the Muslim Brotherhood – the world’s oldest Islamist organization, and interference in their affairs.

The four say Qatar pledged to desist from interfering in its neighbors’ politics in the 2013 agreement.

Qatar has rejected the charges and said the four countries are trying to impose their own views on its foreign policies.

The document surfaced as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in the region to help Washington’s allies hammer out a way out of the crisis that has divided the region.

Qatar officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a statement to CNN, Qatar accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of breaking the spirit of the Riyadh agreement and indulging in an “unprovoked attack on Qatar’s sovereignty.”

In response to CNN questions, a Qatari spokesman said in a statement that it was Saudi Arabia and the UAE who “have broken the spirit of the agreement.”

MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD

“A full reading of that text will show that the intent of the 2013/14 agreements was to ensure that sovereign GCC nations be able cooperate within a clear framework,” said Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, director of Qatar’s government communication office.

The 2013 agreement, reached at a meeting in Riyadh hosted by the then Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, was signed by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, while an implementation mechanism was signed by the six GCC foreign ministers.

In the document, the parties agreed to refrain from supporting any “political currents that pose a threat to any member country of the (Gulf Cooperation) Council”, and provides for Muslim Brotherhood leaders who are non-GCC citizens to leave the area.

Kuwaiti mediation efforts hit a snag last week when the four Arab states said they were disappointed with Qatar’s response to a list of 13 demands they had presented.

Qatar said the demands, which included ending support for militant groups, the closure of the Al Jazeera satellite channel, shutting down a Turkish military base in Qatar and downgrading ties with Iran, were an infringement of its sovereignty.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Middle East

Saad Hariri: Lebanon PM ‘suspends’ resignation

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has “suspended” his resignation, which sparked a crisis when he announced it while in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago.

Mr Hariri said President Michel Aoun had asked him to “put it on hold ahead of further consultations”.

The two men held talks a day after Mr Hariri flew back to Lebanon.

Mr Hariri has denied that Saudi Arabia forced him to resign and detained him in an attempt to curb the influence of Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is part of a national unity government formed by Mr Hariri last year.

“Today I presented my resignation to his excellency the president, and he asked me to temporarily suspend submitting it and to put it on hold ahead of further consultations on the reasons for it,” Mr Hariri said after Wednesday’s meeting at the Baabda presidential palace.

“I expressed my agreement to this request, in the hope that it will form a serious basis for a responsible dialogue.”

Mr Hariri said Lebanon required “exceptional effort from everyone” at this time in order to “protect it in confronting dangers and challenges”.

He also reiterated the need to remain committed to Lebanon’s state policy of “dissociation regarding wars, external struggles, regional disputes and everything that harms internal stability” – an apparent reference to the activities of Hezbollah.

The Shia Islamist movement acknowledges fighting alongside government forces in Syria and Iraq, and arming Palestinian militants. But it denies advising and sending weapons to rebel forces in Yemen’s civil war and militants in Bahrain.

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‘Blow to Saudi Arabia’

By Martin Patience, BBC News, Beirut

The fact that Saad Hariri’s resignation has been delayed will be seen as a blow to Saudi Arabia. Many here believe Riyadh pressurised him to resign in order to bring about the Lebanese government’s collapse.

Lebanon is now centre stage in the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. There is likely to be days of backroom dealing in order resolve this crisis. But the solution will need to involve the regional powers and the international community.

Significantly, Mr Hariri has opened the possibility that he may stay in power if Hezbollah respects Lebanon’s policy of staying out of regional conflicts.

On Monday, Hezbollah’s leader denied sending arms to Yemen and a number of other Arab states, and said he could pull its fighters out of Iraq once so-called Islamic State was defeated there.

But that is unlikely to appease a wounded Saudi Arabia.

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Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Hariri was embraced by Mr Aoun as the two men attended an independence day military parade in Beirut. The president, a Maronite Christian former army commander and ally of Hezbollah who publicly accused Saudi Arabia of detaining the prime minister, appeared to tell him: “Welcome back!”

Mr Hariri left Riyadh for France at the weekend with his wife and one of his three children. He flew to Lebanon on Tuesday, stopping in Egypt and Cyprus en route.

On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech that still considered Mr Hariri prime minister and that the militant Shia Islamist movement was “open to any dialogue and any discussing that happens” in Lebanon.

Mr Hariri announced his resignation in a televised address on 4 November from Riyadh, in which he accused Iran of sowing “discord, devastation and destruction” in the region and said he sensed there was an assassination plot against him.

His father Rafik – himself a former prime minister – was killed in a car bombing in Beirut in 2005. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at a UN-backed tribunal in connection with the attack, though the group denies any involvement.

Mr Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who became prime minister for the second time in late 2016 in a political compromise deal that also saw Mr Aoun elected president, has close ties to Saudi Arabia.

He holds both Lebanese and Saudi citizenship and has extensive business interests there. Riyadh also backs his political party, the Future Movement.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia scores Qatari praise for security in Horn of Africa region

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Qatar has lauded efforts of Ethiopia in maintaining peace in the Horn of Africa region. The applause from Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was during a meeting with Ethiopian premier Hailemarian Desalegn.

The state-affiliated FBC reports that the two leaders spoke on areas of strengthening security, investments and diplomatic ties. The Emir is said to have lauded Ethiopia as a strategic partner and one key to peace in the Horn of Africa region.

Desalegn is in Doha on an official visit reciprocating a similar one earlier this year by the Emir to Addis Ababa.

Another Ethiopian state outlet, ENA, reported about diplomatic agreements signed by both countries in the area of visa waivers.

“Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman signed the agreement providing for waiver of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports.

“Finance and Economic Cooperation Minister Dr. Abraham Tekeste and Qatari Economy and Trade Minister Ahmed Bin Jassim signed the protection of investment agreement,” ENA reported.

On the issue of the Gulf crisis, Ethiopia reiterated its stance with the Kuwaiti move to resolve the dispute through dialogue. Unlike Djibouti and Eritrea who took sides in the crisis, Ethiopia and Somalia maintained a neutral stance and backed calls for dialogue.

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Middle East

Saudi ‘freezes bank accounts’ of Mohammed bin Nayef

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Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s ex-crown prince who was ousted as next in line to the throne in June, has reportedly become the latest royal family member to be targeted in the kingdom’s expanding anti-corruption crackdown.

According to Reuters news agency and the Wall Street Journal, bank accounts linked to Mohammed bin Nayef and to some of his immediate relatives were frozen by Saudi authorities.

Both reports on Wednesday cited sources “familiar with the matter”. The Reuters report was also carried by Saudi state-owned media.

The freezing of Mohammed bin Nayef’s accounts came as Saudi authorities launched a new arrest campaign as part of the widening purge that began on Saturday, according to Reuters.

Dozens of royals, government officials and influential entrepreneurs have already been detained, facing, a number of allegations, including money laundering and bribery.
Among those held are 11 princes, four ministers and several former ministers, in what is seen as an unprecedented crackdown that has shaken the kingdom.

Meanwhile, the number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge is more than 1,700 and increasing, according to the reports.

High-profile detentions

The steps were the latest in a series of policies widely seen as an effort by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert power over the country and its political and business elite.

On Saturday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that his son, the crown prince, would oversee a newly formed anti-graft commission that would purge the country of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who owns investment firm Kingdom Holding was among those held. The list of detainees also included senior ministers who were recently sacked, such as Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister.

Mohammed bin Salman replaced his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as the kingdom’s crown prince in June.

Mohammed bin Nayef made his first confirmed public appearance since his ousting at the funeral on Tuesday for Prince Mansour bin Muqrin Al Saud, deputy governor of Asir province, according to Saudi media.

Mansour bin Muqrin died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. No cause has been given for the crash.

‘Rights concerns’

On Wednesday, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statementthe “mass arrests” carried out by Saudi Arabia raises human rights concerns.

“The middle-of-the-night simultaneous establishment of a new corruption body and mass arrests over corruption raise concerns that Saudi authorities detained people en masse and without outlining the basis of the detentions,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said.

“While Saudi media are framing these measures as Mohammad bin Salman’s move against corruption, the mass arrests suggest this may be more about internal power politics,” she added.

The rights group noted that arbitrary detention is in contravention of international human rights law, and demanded those arrested be informed of the “specific grounds for their arrest” and ” be able to fairly contest their detention before an independent and impartial judge”.

“Saudi authorities have not disclosed the specific reasons for the detention of the dozens of other people since mid-September. But the detentions fit a pattern of human rights violations against peaceful advocates and dissidents, including harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, travel bans, detention, and prosecution,” its statement added.

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