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Russia urges dialogue in Qatar-Gulf dispute

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DUBAI: Russia on Saturday (Jun 10) called for dialogue to resolve a dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, as Riyadh and its allies welcomed US President Donald Trump’s demand that Doha stop funding extremist groups.
Rights group Amnesty International warned of “heartbreak and fear” suffered by ordinary people caught in the diplomatic crossfire.

Moscow’s appeal came after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson encouraged Saudi Arabia and its allies to ease their land and sea “blockade” of gas-rich Qatar.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the Maldives severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism, and imposed punitive measures.

Qatar called the accusations baseless and dispatched Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on a diplomatic offensive to enlist support from abroad.

On Saturday he was in Moscow to see Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a day after visiting Germany and Brussels.
“We cannot be happy in a situation when the relations between our partners are worsening,” Lavrov said. “We are in favour of resolving any disagreements through … dialogue.”

Russia is “ready to try to do everything in its power” to help resolve the crisis, he said.

Sheikh Mohammed said his aim was to inform Russia about “the illegal measures” taken against Qatar. “Differences are always solved by dialogue and the (Gulf) Cooperation Council is the most suitable framework for these talks,” he said.

‘SWIFT ACTION NEEDED’

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are all in the GCC. Its other two members, Kuwait and Oman, have not severed ties with Doha, and Kuwait has been trying to mediate.

But the crisis appeared to escalate on Friday as Saudi Arabia released a joint statement listing 59 Qatari entities and individuals, including members of the royal family, as involved in “terrorist” activities.

Trump told a White House news conference Qatar “has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level” and said “they have to end that funding”.

Qatar’s detractors seized on his remarks as vindication of their stance.

The United Arab Emirates welcomed “President Trump’s leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism”.

Saudi Arabia called for an immediate change of policy by Qatar.

“Fighting terrorism and extremism is no longer a choice, rather … a commitment requiring decisive and swift action to cut off all funding sources for terrorism regardless of its financier,” the Saudi Press Agency cited an official source as saying.

Bahrain also said Qatar needed to “correct its policies” and fight terrorism.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Qatar of sponsoring extremist groups, some allegedly linked to Riyadh’s arch-foe Iran, fomenting trouble across the region.

They also resent Doha’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its sponsorship of the pan-Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera, which has given opposition figures a platform.

Qatar has denounced the allegations and received backing from its close ally Turkey, whose parliament approved the deployment of troops to defend the emirate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said he has never known Qatar to support “terror” organisations and vowed to “continue to give all kinds of support” to Doha.

On Saturday, Erdogan held talks in Istanbul with Bahrain’s foreign minister, Turkish media reported.

‘BLOCKADE HINDERING MILITARY’

Trump’s Qatar comments Friday overshadowed earlier remarks by Tillerson that the stand-off was hindering the US-led fight against the Islamic State group.

“The blockade is hindering US military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS,” Tillerson warned, referring to the land and sea blockade imposed on Qatar.

But US officials insisted the message was the same – countries in the region should not allow their differences to hamper the fight against extremism.

Qatar is home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East, Al-Udeid, making it a key ally in the US-led coalition against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the “evolving situation is hindering our ability to plan for longer-term military operations”.

The rift between Washington’s key Western Gulf allies has escalated into the region’s worst diplomatic crisis in years.

Tillerson said it was also having humanitarian consequences.

HUMAN COST

Amnesty International echoed him, saying the sea and land blockade and other “drastic” measures against Qatar were taking their toll on families, workers and students.

“Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are toying with the lives of thousands of Gulf residents as part of their dispute with Qatar, splitting up families and destroying people’s livelihoods and education,” the London-based watchdog said.

It noted that Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had warned of harsh punishment, including up to 15 years in jail, if people “dare to criticise these measures” against Qatar.

The measures include banning Qatar Airways from airspace and closing Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia. The Arab states have also ordered Qataris out within 14 days.

Middle East

Is Qatar taking advantage of Somalia – UAE dispute?

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As Somalia seeks to ease tensions with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar which is seen to be at the center of the fallout of the two nations, has donated 30 buses and two cranes to Mogadishu regional officials.

Relations between UAE and Somalia have been steadily declining since the latter’s decision not to cut ties with Qatar, preferring to take a neutral position in the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In March, Somalia banned UAE’s DP World from doing business in the country after it nullified an agreement the company had entered into with Ethiopia and Somaliland for the management of Berbera port.

Diplomatic row

One week ago, Somalia intercepted a plane chartered by UAE diplomats and confiscated $9.6m cash, saying it would investigate the intended purpose of the funds.

UAE retaliated with a scathing statement describing the seizure of the money as a breach of diplomatic protocols.

Both countries have separately issued statements ending a military cooperation program that was started in 2014, where UAE was training and paying some members of the Somali army.

Voice of America (VOA) journalist, Harun Maruf also reported that the UAE-run Sheikh Zayed hospital in Mogadishu had suspended its operations until further notice.

On Monday, it was reported that another UAE plane had been prevented from leaving Bosaso airport by Somali officials after Emirati military trainers refused to hand over their luggage to be scanned and searched.

Reconciliation talks
VOA has also reported that the Somali government on Monday opened conciliatory talks with UAE leaders.

Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad is quoted to have said that ‘talks have begun between the top leadership from the two countries and are progressing well.’

According to the minister, UAE had explained the purpose of the funds and will work with federal government of Somalia on their utilisation.

Mohamed Moalimuu, Secretary General of National Union of Somali Journalists, tweeted on Tuesday evening that the country’s legislators had been summoned to return to duty, supposedly to discuss the UAE dispute.

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Briefing Room

Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies

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AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.

Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.

One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.

“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.

A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.

The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.

“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.

The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.

“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.

In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.

Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.

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Middle East

Saudi billionaire Alwaleed to walk free ‘within days’

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AL JAZEERA — Prominent Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, says he expects to soon be released after two months of detention on allegations of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed, who was arrested among dozens of other royal family members, ministers, and top businessmen, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency on Saturday that he expected to be cleared of charges and released from custody within the next few days.

“There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” the 62-year-old said.

“I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”

He and his counterparts were arrested in early November during the kingdom’s “anti-corruption purge”, and were held collectively in the country’s Ritz Carton hotel.

In his interview, Prince Alwaleed said he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities. He also said he expected to remain in full control of his global investment firm, without being required to give up assets to the government.
During a previous interview with Reuters, a Saudi official said charges against the billionaire prince included money laundering, bribery and extorting of officials.

Also speaking to officials in the kingdom, the Reuters news agency said Saudi authorities were asking detainees to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

The deals involve separating cash from assets, such as property and shares, and looking at bank accounts to assess cash values, one source told Reuters.

Prince Alwaleed appeared frail in comparison to his last public appearance in a televised interview last October, but confirmed that he was being treated well, dismissing rumors that had said otherwise.

Showing off his private office, dining room and kitchen in his hotel suite, Prince Alwaleed said he agreed to the interview mainly to prove that such rumours were false.

The release of Prince Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17bn, may reassure investors in his business empire. Directly or indirectly through his firm, Kingdom Holding, he holds stakes in companies such as Twitter Inc and Citigroup Inc,

He has also invested in top hotels around the world, including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York City.

Saudi authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise some $100bn for the government this way.

In recent days, there have been signs the purge is winding down; several other prominent businessmen, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, have reached financial settlements with authorities, an official source told Reuters on Friday, though terms were not revealed.

Prince Alwaleed said his own case was taking longer to conclude because he was determined to clear his name completely, but he believed the case was now 95 percent complete.

“There’s a misunderstanding, and it’s being cleared. So I’d like to stay here until this thing is over completely and get out and life goes on,” he said, adding that he plans to live in the kingdom after his release.

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