Stand-off at Arab League as Qatar praises Iran

Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit (L) chairs the Arab foreign ministers meeting to discuss the latest developments in Middle Eastern affairs on September 12, 2017, in Cairo. (AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)
Updated 15 September 2017

Stand-off at Arab League as Qatar praises Iran

JEDDAH: Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) diplomats on Tuesday lashed back at Doha’s latest “provocations” after Qatar’s state minister for foreign affairs praised Iran and blamed the bloc for a humanitarian crisis caused by their blockade of Qatar.

During a meeting of ministers at the Arab League, Sultan Saad Al-Muraikhi, Qatar’s permanent envoy to the Arab League, also challenged the quartet to present evidence that his country was supporting extremist groups and terrorists.

“We are advocates of peace and speak openly. We don’t work like bats at night and our decisions are issued in broad daylight,” he said. He also referred to Iran as an “honorable state” for not obliging Doha to open an embassy on its soil.

The quartet of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic relations and cut trade ties with Qatar in June, listing 13 demands including a stop to its support for terrorist groups. Qatar has denied the charges.

A heated exchange occurred when Muraikhi accused the quartet of looking to depose the Emir of Qatar and replace him with  Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al-Thani, who helped negotiate the entry of Qatari pilgrims attending the annual Hajj pilgrimage into Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's permanent envoy to the Arab League, Ahmed Kattan, protested. “This is an improper thing to say because the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will never resort to such cheap methods and we don’t want to change the regime, but you must also know that the kingdom can do anything it wants, God willing,” he said.

Kattan added that Qatar “killed any hope” of ending the Gulf crisis. ”The four countries will continue sticking to their demands until Doha comes to its senses,” he said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri criticized the Qatari envoy’s remarks as being full of “provocations and inappropriate speech that shouldn’t be used in such corridors,” and “especially in an unacceptable manner.”

He reiterated the ATQ’s charges that Doha had been "supporting terrorism” and that Egypt has the right to protect its interests and take all measures guaranteed by international law.

“We all know Qatar’s historic support for terrorism and what has been provided for extremist factions, and money in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Egypt that have lead to the death of many of Egypt’s sons,” Shoukry said.

Anwar Gargash, UAE state minister for foreign affairs, said that Qatar harbors tens of terrorists listed on many international terror lists.

“The situation has improved in many Arab countries ever since the four countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, also known as Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) — took action against Qatar,” added Gargash. “The four countries adopted those measures to protect themselves from Qatar’s activities targeting their national security.”

Gargash said any dialogue with Qatar should be based on the list of 13 demands. He said Doha itself had informed Kuwait then that it was willing to discuss the six principles and 13 demands set by the ATQ. Kuwait had been trying to mediate between its feuding allies.

Gargash also took issue with Turkey and Iran’s support to Qatar during the crisis, saying that “Qatar’s escape to Turkey and Iran is not solving the crisis.”

Bahrain’s undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Regional and GCC Affairs, Waheed Mubarak Sayyar, said Qatar has interfered in his country’s internal affairs on multiple occasions and “supported the overthrow of the regime in Bahrain.”

Sayyar added that “Qatar forgot all its actions threatening our stability and focused on humanitarian aspects.

Damning connections

A review of nearly 50 US Treasury Department-designated senior Al-Qaeda financial facilitators revealed damning connections between the Tehran Al-Qaeda network and Qatar-linked terror operatives.

At the center of the Qatar-Al-Qaeda-Iran trifecta is Qatari national Salim Khalifa Al-Kuwari. He was designated by the US as a senior Al-Qaeda facilitator and financier who to this day lives and operates in Doha. Al-Kuwari, according to US intelligence, has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support to the Al-Qaeda cell in Iran headed by Muhsin Al-Fadhli.

Al-Kuwari also reportedly facilitated travel for extremist recruits on behalf of senior Al-Qaeda facilitators based in Iran, and was a central link for Al-Qaeda leaders based in Tehran to funnel money, messages and fighters from South Asia into the Middle East.

Another reportedly crucial Qatari financier of Al-Qaeda’s terror activities is Khalifa Muhammad Turki Al-Subaiy, who also operates in Doha and was a major source of funding to a senior lieutenant to Al-Fadhli.

Al-Subaiy provided millions of dollars for nearly a decade to Al-Qaeda’s Khorasan group in Syria that was established by Al-Fadhli while he was in Iran, according to Western intelligence sources and US Treasury Department designations. Doha actively lobbied Lebanon to release of one Al-Subaiy’s key moneymen Abdul Aziz bin Khalifa Al-Attiyah after he was briefly detained in Lebanon in 2012.

Yet another terror suspect was Tariq Al-Harzi, a senior Daesh facilitator who was singlehandedly responsible for years for recruiting and moving European foreign fighters. According to the US Treasury Department, in 2013 he arranged for Daesh to receive approximately $2 million from a Qatar-based financial facilitator. Reportedly, Al-Harzi played an important role with fundraising efforts in Qatar, and Doha did nothing to curb these activities.

One of the Khorasan group’s most notorious leaders is Mohammed Shawqi Al-Islambouli, a longtime Al-Qaeda operative and brother of the terrorist who assassinated former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Al-Islambouli was based for a time in Tehran and is very close to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, according to reports.

Doha has reportedly hosted Al-Islambouli on numerous occasions for officially sanctioned events. He took to social media recently to praise Qatar, begging the question: Why did one of Al-Qaeda’s most senior operators and a longtime Tehran resident feel obliged to come to Qatar’s defense?

Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

A Syrian family rides with belongings on a tractor-drawn trailer as they flee from fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018

Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

  • Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
  • Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally

MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.

Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the

He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.