DOHA: Qatar recalled its ambassador to Egypt on Thursday following a row over Cairo’s air strikes on jihadist targets in Libya, threatening fresh divisions among Western-allied Arab states.
A foreign ministry official said Doha was recalling its envoy “for consultation” after Egypt’s delegate to the Arab League accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism”, during discussions on Libya.
Egypt’s new spat with Qatar, which was backed by its Gulf neighbours, came as Libyan officials urged the UN Security Council to lift an arms embargo to allow the country’s military to fight jihadists.
Qatar and most other Gulf Arab nations have joined the US-led coalition which is waging air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.
Cairo is also a close ally of Washington and a regional rift would complicate efforts to forge a united front against IS in Egypt’s neighbour Libya, where jihadists are trying to establish another stronghold.
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Muslim leaders to unite and reject the “false promises of extremism” and jihadists’ claims to represent Islam.
Cairo’s envoy Tariq Adel made his accusation, according to Egyptian media, after Doha’s representative expressed reservations over a clause in a communique welcoming the air strikes on IS targets in Libya.
The communique was released at the end of an ambassador-level Arab League meeting in the Egyptian capital.
Egyptian F-16s bombed militant bases in the eastern Libyan city of Derna on Tuesday, after IS in Libya released a gruesome video showing the beheadings of a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians who had gone to the North African country seeking work.
Qatar’s director of Arab affairs in the foreign ministry, Saad bin Ali al-Mohannadi, said Doha had expressed reservations over welcoming the raids, stressing the need for “consultations before any unilateral military action against another member state”.
The ministry denounced the “tense” statement by Egypt’s representative to the Arab League, saying it “confuses the need to combat terrorism (with)… the brutal killing and burning of civilians.”
Mohannadi added though that Qatar “is supportive and will always remain supportive of the will and stability of the Egyptian people”.
There was no immediate response from Egypt. But Qatar did receive the backing of its Gulf neighbours on Thursday.
Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani said in a statement that it “rejects accusations by Egypt’s permanent envoy at the Arab League that Qatar supports terrorism”.
Ties between Doha and Cairo have been strained in recent years amid a spat over Qatar’s backing for ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
Ties reached a low point when Morsi was toppled by the army in July 2013.
Qatar has repeatedly denounced Morsi’s removal and still provides shelter for many leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood.
However in December there was an apparent thaw in relations after Qatar gave its full support to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who overthrew Morsi and was then elected to office.
Mohannadi’s statement also made clear that Qatar does not want a Libyan arms embargo lifted on “the principle of not strengthening one conflict party against another before the end of the dialogue and the formation of a national unity government”.
Libya’s foreign minister Mohammed al-Dairi had appealed to the UN Security Council on Wednesday to lift the embargo.
“Libya needs a decisive stance from the international community to help us build our national army’s capacity and this would come through a lifting of the embargo on weapons, so that our army can receive material and weapons, so as to deal with this rampant terrorism,” he said.
The UN embargo was imposed in 2011 after the uprising that ousted longtime Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
There is increasing concern that some militias inside Libya have pledged allegiance to IS, following the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians.
Obama said Wednesday that more had to be done to prevent groups like IS from growing stronger.
At a White House summit on radicalism, the US president said the battle was as much about winning hearts and minds as waging a military campaign.
The “ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists, the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders”, must all be tackled, Obama said.