- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani publicly blasted efforts by a Saudi-led coalition to economically and politically segregate Qatar from the larger Arab world, calling the ongoing blockade against the small, oil-rich country “unacceptable.”

In his first public speech condemning the actions by the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC members against Qatar, Mr. Rouhani vowed that Tehran would remain Doha’s stalwart ally whose “airspace, land and sea of our country will always be open to Qatar as a brotherly and neighboring country.”

It was Qatar’s extensive ties to Iran, whose hardliners inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps openly finance terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood that prompted the GCC coalition to implement an air and sea blockade and political embargo against Doha in June.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar has sparked a humanitarian crisis inside the country, since critical deliveries of food and medicine have been held up as a result of the GCC action.

Tehran has sent six aircraft into Qatar as part of an ongoing food airlift program for the besieged country since the blockade went into place As of mid-June, over 90 tons of food has been flown into the country by Iranian aircraft, with another 350 tons waiting to be shipped by Iranian vessels from the port of Dayyer, local reports say.

Mr. Rouhani’s comments came days after Doha rejected Saudi terms to end the blockade and subsequent sequestration of Qatar from the larger Middle East. Kuwait moderated the negotiations to draft terms for normalization of relations between Doha and the GCC, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed support for prior to their rejection by Doha. One of the terms in the deal called for Qatar to shutter the state-subsidized news outlet Al Jazeera.

On Thursday, two former Al Jazzera employees accused the news organization for openly collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohamed Fahmy and Mohamed Fawzi were working for Al Jazeera English in Cairo when they were arrested in 2013 on charges of terrorism directly linked to their work at the network.

Both men claimed they had no knowledge of their work in Egypt being tied network’s ties to the jihadi organization. “My colleagues and I, including cameraman Mohamed Fawzi, did not conspire with the Muslim Brotherhood group designated as terrorists. Al Jazeera did and on behalf of the Qatari government who controls the general direction of the coverage,” Mr. Fahmy said during a briefing in Washington last Thursday.

Mr. Fawzi, an Egyptian citizen, was released after a few days in prison and fled the country for Qatar before coming to the U.S. He was tried in abstentia, sentenced to 10 years in prison and designated an international terrorist.

Mr. Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian, spent over 400 days in Egypt’s “Scorpion prison,” including a month in solitary confinement. He was issued a pardon by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and released from prison in September 2015.

*Laura Kelly contributed to this report

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