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Gulf rift reopens as Qatar decries hacked comments by emir

By Reuters - May 24,2017 - Last updated at May 24,2017

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani meets with US President Donald Trump in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday (Reuters photo)

DUBAI — Qatar got into a war of words with some Gulf Arab allies on Wednesday after it said hackers had posted fake remarks by its emir against US foreign policy, but their state-run media reported the comments anyway.

The development suggested behind-the-scenes disarray among US Gulf allies just days after President Donald Trump visited Riyadh and signalled a possible revival of a 2014 rift between Qatar and its neighbours over Doha's backing of Islamists. 

Qatar's official news agency reported on Tuesday that Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, at a military graduation ceremony, criticised renewed tensions with Tehran, expressed understanding for Hizbollah and Hamas, and suggested US President Donald Trump might not last long in power.

Doha issued a robust denial that the remarks had ever been made, but Gulf Arab countries including oil giant Saudi Arabia permitted their state-backed media to run them throughout the day on Wednesday quoting Qatar's official news agency.

A government spokesman told Reuters the emir had not made any comments at the graduation ceremony for Qataris doing national service.

But Saudi Arabia's Okaz daily thundered: "Qatar splits the rank, sides with the enemies of the nation." Riyadh's Arab News said the comments sparked "outrage" among other Gulf states.

A Qatari foreign ministry official expressed "surprise at the position of some media and satellite channels".

 

Disunity 

 

"The Qatar News Agency (QNA) website has been hacked by an unknown entity. A false statement attributed to His Highness has been published," a government statement said early on Wednesday.

Qatar will track down and prosecute the perpetrators, the statement continued. QNA was inaccessible throughout the day.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates blocked the main website of Qatar's Al Jazeera television, which Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have often seen as being critical of their governments. Al Jazeera says it is an independent news service giving a voice to everyone in the region.

Both dismissed the Qatari claims of a hack. Al Arabiya television ran a story titled "Proof that Qatar News Agency was not hacked," which noted that the statement had also run on Qatari state television and the QNA Instagram account.

Al Arabiya also reported, without elaborating, that an unidentified source in the Emirati foreign ministry had confirmed the blocking of all Qatari media websites.

The incident happened days after Qatar complained it was the target of "an orchestrated barrage" of criticism by unknown parties, in the run-up to Trump's visit, that alleged that the Gulf state supported militant groups in the Middle East.

 

"The reality is that the region is on the verge of further escalation," a Western diplomat in Doha said. "It's total chaos and no one has vision."

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