DUBAI • The United Arab Emirates tightened the squeeze on fellow Gulf state Qatar yesterday, threatening anyone publishing expressions of sympathy towards Doha with up to 15 years in prison and barring entry to Qataris.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said there would be more curbs if necessary, and that Qatar needed to make ironclad commitments to change what critics say is a policy on funding Islamist militants.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday over longstanding allegations that Doha is courting Iran, which they deem the region's biggest external threat, and supporting Islamist groups, seen as the biggest internal threat.
Qatar, which vehemently denies the allegations, drew some apparent support from Turkey yesterday.
Officials in Ankara said the Turkish Parliament would fast-track a draft Bill allowing its troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar.
Iran, itself reeling from an attack by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants that killed at least 12 people yesterday, has called for dialogue to solve the regional rupture.
But efforts to defuse the worst crisis among Gulf Arabs for two decades have showed no immediate progress.
United States President Donald Trump took sides in the rift on Tuesday, praising the actions against Qatar, but later spoke by phone with Saudi King Salman and stressed the need for unity. Defence Secretary James Mattis spoke to his Qatari counterpart to express commitment to the region's security.
Qatar hosts 8,000 US military personnel at Al-Udeid, the largest US air base in the region and a launch pad for US-led strikes on ISIS.
Kuwait's ruling emir has also been seeking to mediate, heading for the UAE yesterday after meeting the Saudi king on Tuesday.
Moscow, meanwhile, dismissed allegations that Russian hackers helped spark the diplomatic crisis, after CNN reported that US officials believed they had planted a false news story. FBI experts visited Qatar late last month to analyse an alleged cyber breach that saw the hackers place the fake story with Qatar's state news agency, CNN said. The report included comments from the Qatari ruler, which seemed friendly to Israel and Iran, and cast doubt on how long Mr Trump would remain in office.
Mr Andrei Krutskikh, a cyber-security adviser with the Kremlin, said: "It is a stale claim and as ever, there is zero evidence."
Qataris, meanwhile, were loading up on food supplies, fearing shortages. The sudden isolation has also led to Qatar holding talks with Turkey, Iran and others to secure food and water, said a Qatari official, who added that there was enough grain to last four weeks, and Qatar also had large strategic food reserves.
UAE-based newspaper Gulf News and pan-Arab channel Al-Arabiya reported the crackdown on expressions of sympathy towards Qatar.
"Strict and firm action will be taken against anyone who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar, or against anyone who objects to the position of the UAE, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form," Gulf News quoted UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif al-Shamsi as saying.
On top of a possible jail term, offenders could also be hit with a fine of at least 500,000 dirhams (S$188,000), the newspaper said.
UAE airlines Etihad and Emirates said all travellers holding Qatari passports were currently prohibited from travelling to or transiting through the emirates.
They announced details of the restrictions after Australian carrier and Emirates partner Qantas Airways said it would not fly Qataris to Dubai because of the bans.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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