Qatar-Saudi Arabia crisis deepens

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Qatar-Saudi Arabia crisis deepens

RIYADH: Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani signalled that Qatar was open to talks, calling for "a dialogue of openness and honesty" to resolve the crisis.

"We believe any issue could be solved through discussion and mutual respect," he told Doha-based news channel Al-Jazeera.

UAE state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said Tuesday on Twitter that a "guaranteed roadmap" was needed before it would consider mending ties.

As well as cutting diplomatic relations and ordering Qatari citizens to leave their countries within 14 days, the Gulf states and Egypt banned all flights to and from Qatar.

UAE carriers Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia, as well as Saudi Airlines had all announced the suspension of flights to and from Qatar as of Tuesday morning.

A total of 27 flights from Dubai to Doha had been scheduled for Tuesday and the Dubai Airports website showed all flights to Doha had been cancelled.

'Eerie' airport quiet

Qatar Airways, for its part, said it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt "until further notice".

Countries including Saudi Arabia also banned Qatari planes from their airspace and Riyadh on Tuesday revoked Qatar Airways' operating licence in the kingdom.

Doha's Hamad International Airport was virtually deserted early on Tuesday. More than 30 flights were shown cancelled on airport television screens.

"This is the emptiest airport I have been in so far," said Katie, transiting in Qatar en route to Thailand. "It's exceptionally quiet, almost eerie."

The crisis will have wide-ranging consequences, not just for Qatar and its citizens but across the Middle East and for Western interests.

Qatar is home to the biggest US airbase in the Middle East, Al-Udeid, where some 10,000 military personnel are stationed. As the forward headquarters of US Central Command, it is seen as crucial in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group.

A Pentagon spokesman said the crisis has had "no impact on our operations in Qatar or with regards to airspace permission around it".

The International Air Transport Association called on the countries that acted against Qatar to restore air links with the country, warning of major travel disruptions.

"Of course we accept that countries have the right to close their borders," said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. "But connectivity with Qatar must be restored as quickly as possible."

Qatar is also a major regional diplomatic player and international investor and is set to host the World Cup, football's biggest tournament, in 2022.

But Qatar has also long been accused by its Gulf neighbours and Egypt of supporting extremist groups.

In announcing it was cutting ties, Riyadh accused Doha of harbouring "terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabilise the region including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh (IS) and Al-Qaeda".

Riyadh also accused Doha of supporting Iran-backed "terrorist activities" in eastern Saudi Arabia and in Shiite-majority Bahrain.

"The measures are unjustified and are based on false and baseless claims," Qatar said in response to Monday's announcement.

Qatar independent streak

Gulf countries previously recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in 2014, ostensibly over its support for the Brotherhood, but Monday's moves go much further.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies may have felt emboldened by Trump's visit, which saw the new president clearly align US interests with Riyadh and lash out at Iran.

Qatar has an independent streak that has often angered its neighbours.

The emirate has directly and indirectly supported Islamist groups across the Arab world, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar has also been criticised for supporting Islamist rebels in Syria, and in 2013, the Afghan Taliban opened a Doha office.

Fellow Gulf states are also reported to have been angered by a huge ransom paid by Doha earlier this year to secure the release of a hunting party, which included members of the Qatari royal family, kidnapped in southern Iraq.

The ransom, which Iraqi officials said was in the "hundreds of millions of dollars", was believed to have been paid to militias with close ties to Tehran.