Published: Wed, June 14, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Qatar rebuffs terrorism list as Gulf crisis grows

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for an easing of the blockade six Arab countries have placed against the nation of Qatar.

The United Arab Emirates welcomed "President Trump's leadership in challenging Qatar's troubling support for extremism".

President Trump on Friday took clear sides in the growing conflict in the Middle East, accusing Qatar of funding terrorism "at a very high level", and said solving the problem in the tiny Persian Gulf nation could be "the beginning of the end of terrorism".

Then, on Tuesday, news emerged that USA officials said they'd concluded that it was Russian hackers who'd broken into Qatar's state news website to post that report.

Saudi Arabia said its action followed the conclusions of last month's Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, where Trump delivered a speech about Islamic extremism. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.

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The list was also a result of "the continued violation by the authorities in Doha of its signed commitments and agreements that included a pledge not to support or harbour elements or organisations that threatened the security of states", it said. "There are humanitarian consequences to this blockade".

Unlike Trump, Tillerson stressed the possibility of reconciliation and pointed to the human cost of the Saudi-led blockade, mentioning shortages of food, the way families had been separated and they way some children have been pulled out of school.

"We believe these are unintended consequences, especially during this holy month of Ramadan".

But Tillerson said the crisis was indeed affecting the USA military. Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is home to more than 11 000 USA and coalition forces and an important base for the fight against Islamic State.

Still, the Pentagon has been developing contingency plans in case there's any interruption, defense officials said.

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The blockade is also impeding U.S. and other worldwide business activities in the region, Tillerson said, creating hardship for the people of Qatar and people whose livelihood depends on doing business with Qatar.

There was no immediate reaction from Qatar, which hosts some 10,000 USA troops. The Qatari Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The neighbours also resent Qatar'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. On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain led a string of countries that cut ties with Qatar over what they say is the emirate's financing of extremist groups and its ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival.

Tillerson further called on Doha to "do more" and "more quickly" to withdraw support for extremist groups, but asked that no further escalation between Qatar and the other countries take place.

Tillerson's efforts to mediate came as Qatar's neighbours put 12 organizations and 59 people on a terror sanctions list and described them as being associated with Qatar, in a fresh attempt to increase pressure.

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