Four Arab nations, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have broken off relations with Qatar, a more deepening a rift among Gulf Arab nations over that country’s support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began withdrawing their diplomatic staff from Qatar as regional airlines quickly announced they’d suspend service to its capital, Doha.
Saudi Arabia’s state news agency announced the move to sever ties with Qatar, saying it was seeking to “protect national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.”
All the nations also said they planned to cut air and sea traffic. Saudi Arabia said it also would shut its land border with Qatar, effectively cutting off the country from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.
Iran a behind-the-scenes target of the move — immediately blamed President Donald Trump for setting the stage during his recent trip to Riyadh.
Gulf Arab states and Egypt have long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, traveling in Australia, asserted that the developments would not affect the U.S.-led coalition fighting Sunni extremist groups in the Middle East.
“What we’re witnessing is a growing list of irritants in the region that have been there for some time,” he said.
Qatar, which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and is home to some 10,000 American troops at a major U.S. military base, criticized the move as a “violation of its sovereignty.” It long has denied supporting militant groups and described the crisis as being fueled by “absolute fabrications” stemming from the recent hack of its state-run news agency.