DUBAI • Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremism, in the biggest diplomatic crisis to hit the region in years.
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Saudi Arabia and Egypt in severing relations with gas-rich Qatar yesterday, with Riyadh accusing Doha of supporting groups, including some backed by Iran, "that aim to destabilise the region". Yemen, Libya's eastern-based government and the Maldives followed suit later in the day.
The measures were the result of "gross violations committed by the authorities in Qatar", Riyadh said, accusing Doha of harbouring "terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabilise the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh (also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and Al-Qaeda".
Saudi Arabia also accused Qatar of broadcasting their ideology, an apparent reference to Qatar's influential state-owned satellite channel Al Jazeera.
Gulf states have for years accused Qatar of supporting extremist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist organisation.
The three Gulf states have banned their citizens from travelling to Qatar and also ordered Qatari citizens - visitors and residents - to leave within 14 days. However, Qatari pilgrims are still permitted to travel to Saudi Arabia to visit Islam's holiest sites.
Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
Qatar reacted with fury, denying any support for extremists and accusing its Gulf neighbours of seeking to put the country under "guardianship".
"The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications," the Qatari Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Iran called on the states to resolve disputes through diplomacy, and said any heightened tension would not help to resolve the crisis in the Middle East.
United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Sydney yesterday that the spat would not affect the fight against Islamist militants, and that Washington has encouraged its Gulf allies to resolve their differences.
The crisis is likely to have wide-ranging consequences, not just for Qatar and its citizens, but also around the Middle East and for Western interests.
The economic consequences were quick, with UAE carriers Emirates, Etihad, FlyDubai and Air Arabia, as well as Saudi Airlines, announcing the suspension of all flights to and from Qatar as of today.
Qatar Airways - one of the region's busiest airlines - said it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf states and Egypt also said they were closing other transport links with Qatar, which relies heavily on imports from its neighbours. Saudi Arabia closed its borders with the country, effectively blocking food and other supplies exported by land to Qatar. Qatar media reported some panic buying by people stocking up on food.
Oil prices rose and Qatari stocks plunged after the moves against the country, which is the world's biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas.
Yesterday's announcement came less than a month after US President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia and called for a united front among Muslim countries against extremism.
Doha last month launched a probe into an alleged "hack" of state media after it said false and explosive remarks attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani were published on the Qatar News Agency website following Mr Trump's visit. The stories quoted him questioning US hostility towards Iran, speaking of "tensions" between Doha and Washington, and speculating that Mr Trump might not remain in power for long.
Qatar hosts the largest US air base in the region, which is crucial to operations against ISIS, and is set to host the 2022 football World Cup.
However, experts said yesterday that the diplomatic crisis could invigorate a campaign by critics of Qatar to strip Doha of football's biggest tournament.
In a brief statement, football's governing body Fifa said it was "in regular contact" with Qatar 2022 organisers and had "no further comments for the time being".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, XINHUA