Easing Qatar blockade? UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain to send teams to Doha for Gulf Cup

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will compete in a regional soccer tournament in Qatar this month despite a boycott imposed by the three allies against Doha, in a sign the protracted Gulf dispute may be easing.

In separate statements, the Saudi, UAE and Bahrain football associations announced they would join the biennial Gulf Nations Cup, which starts on November 24.

The three countries did not attend the draw for the previous tournament two years ago in the Qatari capital and only competed after that tournament was moved to Kuwait.

The three countries, along with Egypt, severed ties with Qatar in mid-2017 over allegations that it supports terrorism, claims Doha denies.

The Gulf Cup rotates hosts and usually involves Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait as well as non-GCC Yemen and Iraq. Oman are the current champions. It was not immediately clear if Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini fans would travel to Qatar for the event as the three boycotting states have banned their citizens from visiting Doha.

Qatar at the time, in its defence, said the embargo only aimed at attacking on its sovereignty.

Kuwait has been mediating in the row that shattered the Western-allied Gulf Cooperation Council that also includes Oman.

The US the dispute as a threat to efforts to contain Iran, and has pushed for a united Gulf front.

When Qatar won the continental Asian Cup in the UAE earlier this year, there were practically no Qatari fans in attendance as they require a special permit to enter the UAE under the embargo.

The Qatari team was subjected to abuse from a crowd hurling bottles and shoes when they faced the UAE in the semi-final.

The UAE’s sports chief later apologised and its football association was sanctioned by the Asian Football Confederation.

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