Gulf bloc backtracks on criticism of Egypt in Qatar row

Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Abdullatif al-Zayani says member states were in "full support" of Egypt, backtracking on previous rebukes (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)

Riyadh (AFP) - The Gulf Cooperation Council has backtracked on criticism of Egypt in its row with bloc member Qatar over Libya, in a move a Saudi-owned daily said Friday reflected divisions among member states.

GCC secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani had issued a statement on Thursday rebuking Egypt for accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism in Libya because of reservations it expressed about Egyptian air strikes earlier this week.

But late in the evening, Zayani issued a new statement disavowing the earlier one and insisting all six member states fully supported Cairo in its intervention in its lawless western neighbour.

"GCC states have stressed their full support to Egypt and its brotherly people in fighting terrorism and protecting its citizens at home and abroad," he said in the later statement.

The Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat said Zayani's earlier statement, which was carried by Gulf state media including the official Saudi Press Agency, was issued without consulting all six GCC members.

The newspaper said some members voiced disagreement with the content, and that the second statement was issued to express the "real position" of the bloc.

GCC states Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have taken opposing sides in the intensifying conflict in Libya, where rival parliaments and governments have been vying for power since last summer.

Qatar supports the Fajr Libya militia alliance which seized Tripoli last August, confining the internationally recognised government to the remote east.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have joined Egypt in supporting the recognised government and its main military backer, divisive General Khalifa Haftar, analysts say.

Abu Dhabi even carried out air strikes against Fajr Libya last August in an abortive attempt to prevent its seizure of the capital, Washington said at the time.

Egyptian F-16s bombed jihadist targets in the eastern Libyan city of Derna on Monday, after the Islamic State group released gruesome video showing the beheadings of 21 Christians, most of them Egyptian Copts.

Qatar condemned the murders but analysts say the emirate is concerned that Egypt may broaden its intervention to back Haftar against Fajr Libya.

Qatar reportedly expressed its reservations over the air strikes at a meeting in Cairo of the Arab League, raising the ire of Egypt's delegate Tariq Adel who hit back by accusing it of supporting "terrorism".

The Gulf state responded by recalling its ambassador to Cairo for consultations.

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