Doha, Qatar, is seen in 2011. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar earlier this month. (Saurabh Das/AP)

New tensions erupted Friday in a feud between Qatar and a group of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia after the leak of an onerous list of demands to be met by Qatar, including the shuttering of its popular Al Jazeera news channel. 

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar this month, portraying the action as stemming from Qatar’s support for extremist groups. The increasingly poisonous rift has split much of the region, elicited confused responses from the United States — a close ally to every party in the dispute — and revealed divides within the Trump administration.  

A list of demands by the Saudi-led bloc — first revealed by the Associated Press on Friday — included requirements that Qatar scale back its diplomatic relations with Iran, close down a Turkish military base in Qatar and sever ties with “terrorist organizations,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State militant group and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.  

Some of the 13 demands addressed long-standing concerns over Qatari support for extremist groups in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. But others, including a vague requirement that Qatar pay compensation for its “policies” and shut down all news outlets the country operates, appeared designed to punish Qatar for its independence from the Saudi-led bloc.

(Reuters)

 It was unclear whether the list represented a draft for discussion, a bargaining position or a formal demand. A spokesman for Qatar’s government, Sheikh Saif al-Thani, said that his government was reviewing the demands but added that the list as well as the “blockade” imposed by the Arab states on his country “has nothing to do with combatting terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy.”

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, writing on Twitter, blamed the leak on Qatar and called it either an “attempt to undermine serious mediation or yet another sign of callous policy.”

The four countries severed ties with Qatar soon after a visit by President Trump to Saudi Arabia. His visit was intended to rally Persian Gulf allies of the United States to take a common stand against extremism and Iranian influence.  

Trump appeared to support the move. “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!” he wrote on Twitter.

Other American officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have favored a less confrontational approach and called for mediation with Qatar, which hosts the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, the base of air operations for the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.  

Earlier this week, the State Department issued an unusually scalding rebuke of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, saying they have taken too long to publicly lay out their complaints.  

Qatar appeared likely to dismiss many of the demands, including the shuttering of the landmark Al Jazeera television and its affiliates. Since its founding in 1996, the Qatari-owned channel has attracted praise and controversy for its frank discussions of delicate topics, its wide coverage of the U.S.-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its reporting on the Arab uprisings that started in late 2010.

In recent years especially, the Arabic-language channel has become closely associated with Qatar’s promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni Islamists around the region, including those who have advanced extremist or sectarian views on the channel.  

The network’s highly regarded English-language channel is seen as far more independent than its Arabic counterpart.  

The list of demands heavily reflected its sponsors’ preoccupation with any challenges to their rule. “Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain,” the list said, according to drafts that were circulated.

“Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.”  

Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo and Heba Habib in Stockholm contributed to this report.