Qatar condemned after backtracking on Makkah summits declaration

Qatar's Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani attends the Arab summit in Makkah. (Reuters)
Updated 03 June 2019

Qatar condemned after backtracking on Makkah summits declaration

  • Qatar's foreign minister said Doha could not support the communique because it contradicted Qatar’s 'foreign policy'
  • The UAE and Bahrain accused Qatar of backtracking on what had been agreed at the meetings

JEDDAH: Qatar on Sunday said it rejected the final declaration of Arab and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summits held in Makkah last week, despite originally endorsing the statement.

Doha could not support the communique because it contradicted Qatar’s foreign policy, the Qatari foreign minister said.

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al Jubeir, accused Qatar of distorting the facts, while the UAE and Bahrain said Doha had gone back on what had been agreed at the meetings

"Qatar had reservations today about two statements that reject Iranian interference in the affairs of the regional states, and the Arab summit’s statement confirmed the centrality of the Palestinian cause and the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with the borders of 67, with East Jerusalem as the capital. Everyone knows that Qatar’s distortion of the truth is not surprising," Al-Jubeir said on Twitter.

Al-Jubeir said Qatar should have made its position clear during the meeting. "Countries that make their own decisions when participating in conferences and meetings announce their positions and reservations in the context of meetings and in accordance with norms, not after the meetings," he said. 

Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said Qatar’s change of position pointed to weakness and a lack of credibility.

"It seems to me that to attend and agree in meetings then retract what was agreed upon is either the result of pressure on the vulnerable who lost their sovereignty, bad intentions or lack of credibility, and these factors could be combined," he tweeted.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid Al-Khalifa, said the move demonstrated the weakness of Qatar’s relations with its neighbors.

In a statement, he said "Qatar’s unresponsiveness to the fair demands that were presented by our countries has led to the persistence of its crisis and prolongation."

"We have no interest in prolonging Qatar’s crisis, but it does not want a solution after it disagreed with its brothers, a matter that absolutely does not redound to the benefit of brotherly Qatari citizens who will remain an integral part of the Gulf’s society whose countries and people are linked by the unity of purpose and a shared destiny," he said. 

Qatar has been boycotted by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt since June 2017 over its support for extremist groups and for its close relations with Iran.

Despite the breakdown in relations, Saudi Arabia's King Salman invited Doha to attend emergency meetings of the GCC and Arab League last week in Makkah. The meetings were called in response to an increase in tensions with Iran.

The communique released Friday strongly condemned Iran for destabilizing the region and said Tehran “posed a direct and serious threat.”

“The statements of the Gulf and Arab summits were ready in advance and we were not consulted on them,” Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told Al-Araby broadcaster. “Qatar has reservations on the Arab and Gulf summits because some of their terms are contrary to Doha's foreign policy.”


Beirut wakes up to a nightmare after port explosion kills 135

Updated 06 August 2020

Beirut wakes up to a nightmare after port explosion kills 135

  • Cost of damage estimated at $15 billion
  • Port officials under house arrest

BEIRUT: Most people experience nightmares only when they sleep. On Wednesday, Beirut woke up to one.

The once bustling port area of the Lebanese capital, the site of Tuesday’s massive explosions, lay in ruins. Amid the flattened remains of warehouses, one of which had been used for years to store 2,750 tonnes of confiscated, highly explosive ammonium nitrate, all that remained standing was the twisted, mangled ruin of a grain silo, its precious contents now unusable.

Farther into the city, where the shock wave from the main blast caused devastation over a radius of more than five kilometers, residents mourned the dead, continued to search for missing loved ones and surveyed the ruins of their homes and businesses.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud estimated the cost of the damage at up to $15 billion, an impossible amount for an already bankrupt economy. Maroun Helou, the president of the Lebanese Contractors Syndicate, estimated that about 50,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged.

The official death toll rose on Wednesday to 135. More than 5,000 people were injured and dozens are still missing, many of them believed to be port workers buried under the rubble at the heart of the explosion. The Lebanese flag flew at half-staff across the country as a mark of respect for the victims.

Lebanese Red Cross chief George Kettana described the blast and its aftermath as “an unprecedented disaster.” He added: “Seventy-five of our ambulances have transported 100 dead and more than 4,000 injured so far and there are (still people) missing.”

Surgeons continued to operate on the injured on Wednesday, after hospitals were overwhelmed on Tuesday. Some of the wounded told how they were taken to hospital on motorcycles driven by passers-by because ambulances were unable to reach them.

Security forces cordoned off central Beirut to prevent theft and looting. The few pedestrians that could be seen found it difficult to walk on streets covered in shattered glass.

One shop owner said: “I experienced all the wars that took place in Beirut, and the attacks against it, but I have never witnessed such devastation in my life. How will we survive? Everything has been destroyed. We are tired. We want salvation.”

Eleven members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, who were on boats anchored at the port, were injured by the blast. They were taken to Sidon for treatment, as emergency departments in Beirut struggled to cope with the flood of wounded. The tourist ship Orient Queen sank in the port. Two crew members were killed and seven injured.

Pierre Ashkar, head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, said: “Ninety percent of Beirut’s hotels have been damaged and there are large numbers of wounded people in hotels, including employees and customers.”

Although silos used for storing wheat — which were rebuilt 15 years ago after suffering damage during the Civil War — were destroyed in the blast, analysts said this is not expected to cause a bread shortage. One expert said: “Wheat will not be stored during reconstruction of the silos. Instead, it will be unloaded from ships directly to trucks that will transport it to the mills.”

The Lebanese cabinet, which met for an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday, has declared a state of emergency lasting two weeks, which gives the military the authority to maintain national security. It also ordered that all those responsible for the management, storage, guarding and scrutiny of the chemicals in the warehouse at the port be placed under house arrest, and vowed that those responsible for the explosion would be identified.

While visiting the port to survey the damage, President Michel Aoun said: “The city of Beirut has turned into a disaster city. But the enormity of the shock will not prevent us from carrying out investigations and revealing the circumstances of what happened as soon as possible, holding the officials and inattentive people accountable and imposing the most severe penalties against them.”

A senior judge instructed the General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces to carry out swift investigations into the circumstances of the explosion, including identification of those tasked with ensuring the safe storage of the chemicals, and those in charge of maintenance work reportedly being carried out at the warehouse shortly before the blast.

The details of the confiscation of the ammonium nitrate about six years ago are still somewhat unclear. The port’s general manager, Hassan Koraytem, said there had been correspondence about the chemicals at the time of the seizure and guards were assigned to them, but that port authorities had no authority to move or dispose of them. He added that the judiciary had issued instructions for a gap in a gate to be closed to protect the chemicals from damage or theft and this was implemented by port authorities.

There have been suggestions that welding work at or near the warehouse caused a fire that triggered the explosion.

Meanwhile, messages of support and promises of aid poured in from world leaders. The cabinet was informed that French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Lebanon on Thursday to “stress solidarity with the Lebanese in the ordeal that befell them.”

In a call to Prime Minister Hassan Diab, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged “the support of the United States for Lebanon, and its willingness to provide urgent assistance,” the PM’s office said.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri also visited the scene of the explosion. He was greeted at the nearby memorial to his father, Rafic Hariri, by protesters tried to throw stones at him.
Meanwhile dozens of aircraft loaded with medical aid, including field hospitals, were sent to Lebanon by Arab and other foreign countries.

However, Suleiman Haroun, the president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said: “The stock of medical supplies for hospitals is exhausted. We do not need field hospitals, but rather tools and supplies.”