Saudi Arabia agrees to end blockade on Qatar, opens airspace and land border

Saudi Arabia agrees to end blockade on Qatar, opens airspace and land border
Date: 5.1.2021 11:00

Kuwait's foreign minister announces preliminary agreement in major step towards resolving Gulf crisis.

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Saudi Arabia has agreed to lift its land and air blockade on Qatar in a major step towards ending a Gulf rift that started more than three years ago, when Riyadh and its allies imposed a siege on Doha. 
Kuwait's Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah announced the breakthrough on Monday, ahead of a highly anticipated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit where a broader resolution to the crisis is expected to be reached.
Al-Sabah did not elaborate on whether the preliminary agreement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia extends to the other blockading countries - the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. 
But he conveyed the gratitude of Kuwait's emir to the leaders of the Gulf and Egypt, saying that they are all working for Tuesday's GCC summit to reflect unity and for affairs to return to normal, ensuring "cooperation and solidarity".
"This has gone on for three and a half years, and nobody benefited from it," said Imad Harb, director of research and analysis at the Arab Center Washington DC.
He said Saudi Arabia lost its GCC "supremacy" partly because of the crisis - with Qatar breaking away completely, Kuwait adopting a stance of neutrality, and even the United Arab Emirates opening its own channels with the West and normalising relations with Israel.
Putting GCC back together
Harb told MEE that Monday's announcement appears to be like a bilateral agreement between Riyadh and Doha, and it remains to be seen whether the rest of the GCC and Egypt will join in the reconciliation effort.
"But the important part about it is more than just opening borders - it's also that Saudi Arabia has realised that they cannot go on with the same old policy ... now they are finding that maybe it's time to really put things back together and try to put the GCC back together," Harb said.
Qatar confirmed on Monday that Sheikh Tamim, its emir, will lead the country's delegation to the summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed the breakthrough in the impasse on Monday, saying the kingdom's approach was based on enhancing "the ultimate interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states and the Arab countries".
"[The] Crown Prince reasserted that the upcoming GCC summit shall be a summit to close the ranks and unify the stance and to enhance the march of the good and prosperity," the kingdom's official news agency SPA said in a statement.
The Saudi-led quartet had imposed the blockade in June 2017, accusing Qatar of interfering in the countries' internal affairs and backing militant groups - charges that Doha denies.
For lifting the blockade, the alliance submitted a list of 13 demands, including shuttering the Doha-based Al Jazeera news network, ending Turkish military presence in Qatar and cutting diplomatic ties with Iran. 
Doha categorically rejected the ultimatum.
Harb said the Qatari-Saudi rapprochement renders the quartet's demands "no longer applicable".
"They never were applicable in the first place anyway. But for Saudi Arabia to say: 'Well, okay we're not going to be hung up on the issue of the 13 demands means that they're willing to just give up on all of them," Harb said.
However, he added that attacks by the respective "media arms" of both countries are likely to be toned down after the agreement.


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