DUBAI - A row between Qatar and fellow GCC members deepened Sunday after the Doha-based Al Jazeera channel posted a cartoon denigrating the Saudi king on its official Twitter feed.The tweet set off an angry reaction from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
Relations between Qatar and the other Persian Gulf Arab states were already fraught after the Qatar's state run news agency last week reported that the Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had criticised the aggressive rhetoric aimed at Iran by the Gulf and US during Mr Trump's visit to Riyadh on May 20-21.
The Qatari emir was quoted as describing Iran as an "Islamic power" and "big power in the stabilization of the region."
"There is no wisdom in harbouring hostility toward Iran," the emir said at a military graduation ceremony, according to the QNA report, which was quickly taken down.
He was also cited as questioning US President Donald Trump's hostility towards Tehran, speaking of "tensions" between Doha and Washington, praising Hamas resistance movement as "the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," and threatening to withdraw ambassadors from a range of Middle Eastern countries.
Doha later claimed that the report was false and posted by hackers who took over the QNA site and associated Twitter account for several hours on Tuesday night. However, it offered no proof.
However, the Qatari state television's nightly newscast had showed clips of the monarch at an official military ceremony with a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen showing the same remarks.
They included reference that Qatar had "strong relations" with Iran. "Iran represents a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored and it is unwise to face up against it," the ticker read at one point. "It is a big power in the stabilization of the region."
The emir's reported comments were contrary to desperate Saudi attempts to contain rising influence of Iran in the region.
The emir's telephonic talk with the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Saturday added to suspicions of Qatar's position. The Iranian president's website later reported that Sheikh Tamim had told him that talks between Iran and Arab Gulf states should continue.
An Arab minister later warned that Qatar's actions were threatening stability in the Gulf.
Anwar Gargash , the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates Sunday warned that an alliance of Gulf Arab states was facing a major crisis and he said there was an urgent need to rebuild trust.
Gargash made his comments on Twitter less than a week after Saudi Arabia and the UAE signaled frustration at Qatar.
Though Qatar denied making the critical comments but Saudi Arabia and the UAE allowed their state-backed media to continue running the story, angering Doha.
Gulf countries have made no official comment on the rift, which emerged after Trump's first visit to Saudi Arabia and his meetings with Arab and Muslim heads of state since he took office.
Afterwards, Saudi Arabia and the UAE blocked access to Qatari media, including Al Jazeera and Egypt accused the international news channel of "inciting terrorism" and "fabricating news."
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani then said his country was being targeted in a "hostile media campaign."
Amid media war, state owned Saudi press Monday published a statement from clerics from Wahabi sect, declaring Qatari royal family as outcasts.
In the front-page statement, 200 descendents of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab demanded the renaming of a Qatar mosque named after the 18th-century cleric even though most Qataris practice Wahhabism.
Although the statement in Okaz did not mention Qatar by name, the statement referred to "the emir of one of the Gulf states" who had built a mosque named after Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, claiming that the cleric was his great grandfather. Qatar's state mosque, opened in 2011, is known as the Sheikh Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab mosque.
"We, therefore, demand that the name of the mosque be changed for it does not carry its true Salafi path," the statement said, according to the Arabic-language Okaz.
Other Saudi newspapers have carried similar reports.
Qatar's ruling al-Thani family traces its history to Najd, the central and northern part of Saudi Arabia where Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was from, but it is not clear whether there is a direct family link to him.
The rift earlier prompted authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to block the main website of Qatar-based al Jazeera television, which Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as critical of their governments. The station says it is an independent news service.
Ties between Qatar and some other Gulf Arab states suffered an eight-month breakdown in 2014 over Qatar's alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the political ideology of which challenges the principle of dynastic rule.
Analysts say that the developments appeared to have once again set Qatar against its rivals in the regions.
Doha has long has faced criticism from its Arab neighbors over its support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
Back in 2014, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in protest at what they called Doha's "interference in their internal affairs."
Christopher Davidson of Durham University said the recent developments reflected a "serious fracture between the two different camps in the Persian Gulf," adding, "The divisions remain very deep about the vision for the region."
Kristian Ulrichsen of Rice University also told AFP that a possible revival of a 2014 rift between Qatar and its neighbors "will depend on whether the issue continues to escalate or is quietly dropped."
"The apparent blocking of Al Jazeera's website and Qatar TV in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is an indication that deeper tensions may indeed be at play," he said.
"It may be the case that the Saudis and Emiratis feel emboldened by the success of their re-set of ties with the [US President Donald] Trump presidency to become more assertive in regional affairs," he added.
Qatar is wary of Iran, but is not aligned with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the issue, in part because of a shared major gasfield. Doha, which has long sought to remain independent of its larger neighbour's foreign policy preferences, is probably less enthusiastic about greater hostility with Iran.
Qatar has also faced criticism over its association with groups like Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas, which has been listed as a terrorist group by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.