The UAE and Saudi Arabia along with the allied states who have joined them in isolating Qatar have named 59 individuals and 12 organisations for terror sanctions, putting increased pressure on Doha.
The terrorist designations, also enacted by Bahrain and Egypt, were announced early on Friday, after the Turkish parliament approved accelerated plans to send troops to the country’s base in Qatar, and as Doha called for US president Donald Trump to mediate.
Mr Trump on Friday said Qatar had a history of funding terrorism at a “very high level”, and said it must stop “immediately”.
“No civilised nation can tolerate this violence or allow this wicked ideology to spread on its shores,” he said at the White House.
The UAE welcomed president Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism”, said Yousef Al Otaiba, ambassador to the US.
“The next step is for Qatar to acknowledge these concerns and commit to re-examine its regional policies,” Mr Al Otaiba said. “This will provide the necessary basis for any discussions.”
Mr Trump, who has offered to mediate in the dispute, also discussed the continuing crisis in a phone call earlier with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
The US president’s remarks came soon after his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, urged Saudi Arabia, the UAE and its allies to ease their measures against Qatar, saying they were hindering the fight against ISIL and damaging US economic interests in the region.
Mr Tillerson said Qatar’s emir “has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly”.
The top US diplomat also threw his country’s support behind the Gulf mediation efforts being led by Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah.
“The GCC must emerge united and stronger to show the world the GCC’s resolve in its fight against violence and terrorism and its commitment to countering the threat from extremism,” Mr Tillerson said. “Our expectation is that these countries will immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation and put forth a good-faith effort to resolve their differences.”
Noura Al Kaabi, the UAE Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs, said the crisis had been simmering over 20 years.
“Qatar must change or face isolation,” Ms Al Kaabi said in an interview with Euronews.
“The United Arab Emirates and the leadership of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, we have one vision, basically to ensure we have clear policies that guarantee the stability and the prosperity of this region. That is a common goal. We can’t prosper economically, socially in the midst of such a region with what’s happening around us. I believe after the Riyadh Summit there was agreement on which country is the one supporting terrorism, and it’s Iran. The government of Qatar refused to identify that.
“We tried everything to help us get on to one path, the path of achieving what will make us safe, secure, stronger and offer the best to our people and to the region. ”
The minister said the GCC was not contemplating military action but when asked if Qatar could be expelled from the GCC, she replied, “It’s Qatar’s choice.”
The boycotting nations say they have amassed evidence to back allegations of Qatar’s links to terrorism.
The sprawling list includes alleged Qatari financiers and entities calling themselves charities, and individuals from a spectrum of Islamist groups, militias and terrorist organisations spanning the Arab world, from Libya to Egypt to Yemen. The list gives an impression of how far Doha’s patronage to Islamist groups has reached since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, in its bid to project its influence at a time when many of them seemed ascendant.
“Qatar has a history of supporting groups that have spanned the spectrum of political expression from activism to violence,” Mr Tillerson said.
Several well-known figures whom the UAE has already labelled as terrorists are on the list, including Yusuf Qaradawi, the Egyptian-born preacher and spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, leaders of extremist militias in Libya, numerous Shia militants from Bahrain nd Yemeni Abdelwahab Al Humayqani, the secretary general of the Salafi Al Rashad Party and an adviser to Yemen’s president. The US treasury imposed sanctions on Al Humayqani in 2013 for his ties to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The Sheikh Eid Charity Foundation was also placed on the sanctions list for its alleged connections to Al Qaeda.
The UAE tightened the screw further on Friday when the central bank instructed all banks and financial institutions operating in the Emirates to search for and freeze any accounts, deposits or investments held by any individual or entity designated as terrorist, and to apply “enhanced customer due diligence” to any accounts held with six Qatari banks.
Moves for more Turkish troops to be deployed at their base in Qatar was seen as a provocation.
The UAE ambassador to Moscow, Omar Saif Ghobash, said: “It is up to the Qatari people and the royal family to decide if [regime change] is the right approach or not. We are not looking at military options at all. It is Turkey that is militarising the position. We believe we have reached the end of the line in discussing with Qataris how things can get better.”
It is not clear what additional measures Qatar’s neighbours might take if the tensions continue to escalate, but there were reports that Qatari natural gas shipments were avoiding the Suez Canal, preferring the much longer journey around Africa to reach Europe. Qatar is of strategic importance for many European and Asian countries because of its role as their key gas supplier, and moves to hamper its exports could create more pressure on Doha and potentially cause a loss in market share as importers look for more stable suppliers.
The foreign minister of Bahrain, which is closely aligned with Riyadh, is certain to discuss the crisis and Turkey’s role in it when he visits the country on Saturday.
International mediation efforts are also continuing, though it is unclear whether Mr Tillerson’s intervention will be welcomed by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Many observers say it was the signals Mr Trump was giving off that made the UAE and Saudi put pressure on Qatar to align with them fully. But Mr Trump’s subsequent calls for de-escalation convinced Doha that greater US involvement would benefit its position.