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World

June 20, 2017

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Turkish troops in Qatar for joint exercises Doha’s isolation could last years: UAE

Turkish troops in Qatar for joint exercises Doha’s isolation could last years: UAE

DOHA: Turkish troops have arrived in Doha to take part in joint training exercises, Qatar’s defence ministry said on Monday, at a time of high tension in the Gulf.

The first joint drills took place on Sunday at the Tariq bin Ziyad military camp in Doha, the ministry said in a statement carried by the official news agency.

The exercises aim to raise "Qatari and Turkish fighting efficiency amid plans for joint operations to fight extremism and terrorism, as well as peacekeeping operations before and after military operations," said the statement in Arabic.

The drills had "been planned for some time" added the statement.

They are taking place as a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf enters its third week.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other countries have cut ties with Qatar over accusations the emirate supports extremism.

Doha denies the accusations and says measures imposed on Qatar by its Gulf neighbours amount to a "blockade".

Turkey is one of Qatar’s strongest allies.

Earlier this month, Ankara fast-tracked a separate agreement to allow troops to be deployed at Turkey’s military base in Qatar.

It has also increased food supplies to Qatar after the emirate’s land border was closed.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has been one of the figures trying to forge a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed the economic and political isolation of Qatar as "inhumane and un-Islamic".

Last year, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was the first foreign leader to phone Erdogan after a failed coup in Turkey.

Last week, Qatar’s navy carried out three days of joint training exercises with the US Navy.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s diplomatic isolation could last years and its Gulf rivals will not lift sanctions until it abandons its alleged support for terrorists, a United Arab Emirates minister said on Monday.

"We do not want to escalate, we want to isolate," state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told journalists during a visit to Paris.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar two weeks ago and have closed land and sea borders and imposed severe restrictions on airspace. The crisis has raised major concerns over instability in the region.

"This isolation can take years," Gargash said.

Qatar’s rivals were "betting on time", but a solution could not be brokered until it abandoned its support for "extremist Islamists".

"They have built a sophisticated podium for jihadism and Islamic extremism," he said.

"They support groups linked to al-Qaeda in Syria, Libya... and in Yemen."

This state is weaponising jihadists and Islamists, it is using this as a weapon of influence, he added.

But by applying pressure on gas-rich Qatar through sanctions, "we have a golden opportunity to break this support", he said. Qatar strongly denies the accusations.

In the next few days, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt will submit a list of demands to Qatar, which is likely to include the expulsion of radical individuals.

"There must be some people who are wise in Qatar and who will prevail, hopefully within the ruling family," Gargash said.

"This is not about regime change, it is about behaviour change."

He called for Western nations including the United States, France, Germany and Britain to help monitor any agreement reached with Qatar to ensure they are not cooperating with jihadists.

"They have the diplomatic clout and technical know-how," Gargash added.

He said that despite the row, the Gulf nations had pledged to allow the massive US base in Qatar, where 10,000 American soldiers are based, to function normally.

The Al-Udeid base, the largest US base in the region, is a key launching pad for military strikes on the Islamic State jihadist group.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nayan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Wednesday.

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