Five countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen – have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of destabilizing the region.
They say Qatar backs militant groups including ISIS and al-Qaeda, which Qatar has denied.
The Saudi state news agency SPA said Riyadh had closed its borders, severing land, sea and air contact with the tiny peninsula of Qatar.
Qatar called the decision “unjustified” and with “no basis in fact”.
Image source Flickr
The unprecedented move is being seen as a significant split between powerful Gulf countries, who are also close US allies.
It comes in the context of increased tensions between Gulf countries and their near-neighbor Iran. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of collaborating with Iranian-backed militias.
The diplomatic withdrawal was put into motion by Bahrain then Saudi Arabia on June 5. Their allies swiftly followed.
SPA cited officials as saying the decision was taken to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”.
The three Gulf countries have given Qatari nationals two weeks to leave their territory.
More broadly, there are two key factors driving June 5 decision: Qatar’s ties to Islamist groups, and the role of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
While Qatar has joined the US coalition against ISIS, the Qatari government has been forced to repeatedly deny accusations from Iraq’s Shia leaders that it provided financial support to ISIS.
However, wealthy individuals in the emirate are believed to have made donations and the government has given money and weapons to hard-line Islamist groups in Syria. Qatar is also accused of having links to a group formerly known as the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.
The SPA statement accused Qatar of backing these groups, as well as the widely-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and that it “promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly”.
A FIFA taskforce has recommended the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should take place in November and December.
Key football officials met in Doha to discuss a number of options following fears a summer event would endanger the health of players and fans.
Summer temperatures in Qatar can exceed 40C (104F) while those in November and December drop to around 25C (77F).
Today’s recommendation is expected to be ratified by FIFA’s executive committee in Zurich on March 19 and 20.
Taskforce chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa also recommended that the 2022 tournament should be shortened by a few days.
There has already been speculation that the tournament could start on November 26 and end on December 23.
However, FIFA has already said there are no plans to reduce the size of the tournament from 32 teams or 64 matches.
The other dates under consideration were May and January-February.
In a statement, FIFA said a number of options had been discussed but felt that November-December was the best one because:
A January-February tournament would clash with Winter Olympics
The month of Ramadan begins on April 2 in 2022
Hot conditions prevail from May to September in Qatar
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said there were “pros and cons” for all options but said the “one solution” was November and December.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa added: “We are very pleased that, after careful consideration of the various opinions and detailed discussions with all stakeholders, we have identified what we believe to be the best solution for the 2018-2024 international match calendar and football in general.
“It was a challenging task and I want to thank all members of the football community for their productive input and constructiveness in helping to find a solution that we believe can work for everyone.”
FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce said moving the World Cup to the winter was a “common sense” decision but that a final on December 23 would be too close to Christmas and the traditional festive matches.
He said a tournament in November and December would “cause a lot of disruption” but added: “It is eight years away and people should have enough time to make it work.”
Many of Europe’s top leagues wanted an April-May solution to minimize disruption to their domestic programs.
There is also the Champions League and Europa League to consider, with group games usually taking place in November and December.
However, European governing body UEFA came out in support of the taskforce recommendation.
It issued a statement insisting it “sees no major issues in rescheduling its competitions for the 2022/23 season”.
African officials agree with the taskforce’s recommendation, despite the fact they will almost certainly have to move the 2023 African Cup of Nations from its January-February slot.
Confederation of African Football’s director of communications Junior Binyam said it was backing the proposal “100%”.
As for North America, the Major League Soccer season in the United States will be unaffected given it runs from March until the end of October.
Average temperatures in November are around 29C (84F), dropping to around 25C (77F) by mid-December, slightly cooler than the 35C (95F) averages in May.
Tournament organizers had planned to use air-cooling technology they claimed would lower temperatures within grounds to about 23C (73F).
A bronze statue of French footballer Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt has been taken down from the Corniche in Doha, Qatar.
The 16 ft sculpture was removed just weeks after being installed, having prompted strong reactions on social media.
It generated criticism from religious conservatives who believe it encourages idolatry; others thought it promoted violence or was in bad taste.
It portrays Zinedine Zidane headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup.
The bronze statue of Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt has been taken down from the Corniche in Doha
Created by Algerian-born French artist Adel Abdessemed in 2012, it had previously been on show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It was bought by the Qatari Museum Authority.
Local reports say the statue – known as Coup de Tete or headbutt – is going to be housed along with other works by Abdessemed in the Arab Museum of Modern Art.
The Arabic hashtag “Zidane’s statue in Qatar” triggered a “massive” reaction from dismayed conservatives on Twitter, said AFP, with one user sarcastically posting: “Congratulations for having new idols.”
“It is sad that our youth see in this art and modernity. Our children do not differentiate between the right and the wrong, or the haram [prohibited] and the halal [permissible],” said another tweeter.
The statue’s craftsmanship and symbolism were earlier praised as “timeless as Greek mythological works of art” by the Jean-Paul Engelen, director of Public Art at the Qatari Museum Authority.
Syrian opposition groups are preparing for a crucial meeting on Sunday in the Qatari capital, Doha, to discuss how to form a more united front.
The meeting could lead to a replacement for the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition body in exile.
The SNC has been criticized as out of touch by rebel forces in Syria, and the opposition is also split ideologically.
The Doha talks come a day after rebels in northern Syria launched an offensive to win control of a key airbase.
Video posted on the internet on Saturday showed fighters attacking the strategically important Taftanaz base in the north with multiple rocket launchers, mortars and other weaponry.
Activists said the fighting at Taftanaz, which is crucial for government supply lines into northern Syria, continued into Saturday evening, although state media said government forces had repelled the assault.
In recent months, the government forces have been making increasing use of air power to strike areas held by the rebels, who lack anti-aircraft weapons to deter the attacks.
The SNC will be looking to broaden its ranks and agree on a common platform at the conference.
However, other groups and opposition figures will also be present, including respected dissident Riad Seif.
Riad Seif is being apparently being suggested by the US as the head of a new government-in-exile which would be dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.
“An alternative to the regime is dearly needed,” Riad Seif told the Reuters news agency.
“We are talking about a temporary period that begins with forming a political leadership until a national assembly that represents all Syrians meets in Damascus, once Assad falls,” he added.
What may emerge from the meeting is a new leadership body for the Syrian opposition separate from the SNC but including some figures from it, our correspondent reports.
The US is hoping a new leadership will help unify the disparate opposition elements and bring a successful conclusion to an uprising that has killed more than 36,000 people since protests against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011.
Earlier this week, American officials signaled the opposition needed to be expanded from just the SNC to take in more of those operating inside Syria.
Divisions have arisen not just between those in Syria and opposition figures abroad, but also between Islamist and secularist groups.
A previous opposition meeting in Cairo in July accepted that the Assad government must fall but failed to appoint a committee to act for the opposition internationally.
Representatives at Doha will include various other religious and secular groupings, plus Kurdish figures and dissident members of Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect.
The question of apparent brutality by some rebel units has also come to the fore ahead of the Doha meeting.
Video footage which emerged on Friday appeared to show rebel forces beating and then shooting dead a group of prisoners from pro-government forces who were cowering on the floor.
Although nothing certain has been established about the footage, a radical Islamist faction called the al-Nusra Front has been named in connection with the killings at Saraqeb, near the city of Idlib.
The UN has said the video could be evidence of a war crime.
On Friday, the US said it “condemned human rights violations by any party in Syria”.
State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “There is no justification for that kind of behavior ever. Anyone committing atrocities should be held to account.”
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