World

Gulf crisis prompts Qataris to stockpile food

Middle East trade sources say thousands of Qatar-bound food trucks stuck at the Saudi border

DUBAI: Qatar's backing of Islamists dates back to a decision by the current emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani's father to end a tradition of automatic deference to Saudi Arabia, the dominant Gulf Arab power, and forge the widest possible array of allies.

Doha subsequently cultivated not only Islamists like America's foes Iran, Hamas and the Taliban in pursuit of leverage, but also Washington itself, hosting the largest US air base in the Middle East, reported Reuters.

But what brought matters to a head was a ransom payment of up to US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) to Iranian and Al-Qaeda-linked forces in Syria to release members of the Gulf state's royal family who were kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip.

The Financial Times said it was told by commanders of militant groups and government officials in the region that Doha handed over the money in a transaction that secured the release of 26 members of a Qatari falconry party in southern Iraq, some of whom were members of Qatar's royal family.

That ransom payment is reported to have angered its neighbours.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a coordinated move on Monday.

Yemen, Libya's eastern-based government and the Maldives joined in later and transport links were shut down.

Qatar, a small peninsular nation of 2.5 million people, denounced the action as predicated on lies about it supporting militants.

Closing all transport links with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave, and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatari planes from landing and forbade them from crossing their air space.

Some residents in Qatar have begun stockpiling food and supplies, an expatriate said.

"People have stormed into the supermarket hoarding food, especially imported (items)... It's chaos - I've never seen anything like this before," Ms Eva Tobaji, an expatriate in Doha, told Reuters after returning from shopping.

Supply difficulties quickly developed.

Two Middle East trade sources spoke of thousands of trucks carrying food getting stuck at the Saudi border, unable make the sole overland frontier crossing into Qatar.

About 80 per cent of Qatar's food requirements are sourced via bigger Gulf Arab neighbours.

Trade sources pointed to the likelihood of shortages growing in Qatar until the crisis eased.

Along with Egypt, however, the UAE and Saudi Arabia could be vulnerable to retaliation, being highly dependent on Qatar for liquefied natural gas.

The United States called for a resolution of the dispute soon, saying its partnerships with Gulf nations were vital.

"All of our partnerships in the Gulf are incredibly important and we count on the parties to find a way to resolve their differences sooner rather than later," a State Department official said.

Qatar Airways said on its official website it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, revoked the licences of Qatar Airways and ordered its offices to be closed within 48 hours, a day after banning all Qatari planes from landing at its airports.

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