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Qatar Crisis: Move to Play Football in Qatar, Signals Thaw in Gulf Ties

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Jassim al-Shukali (left), vice president of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation, and Jassim al-Rumaihi, General Secretary of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation, speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, in Doha. — AFP

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have said they will participate in this month’s Arabian Gulf Cup football tournament in Qatar, signalling a thaw in their two-year feud.

RIYADH (AFP) — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will participate in this month’s Gulf Cup football tournament in Qatar, organisers said on Wednesday, signalling a thaw in their two-year feud with Doha.

The three Gulf states as well as Egypt cut relations with Qatar in June 2017.

The three countries have announced they would accept their invitations to travel to Qatar to take part in the tournament.

It will now be held from November 26 until December 8, the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation (AGCFF) said at a briefing in Doha, having been delayed by two days to accommodate Saudi players.

The trio will join hosts Qatar and visitors Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen for the tournament, which will be redrawn on Thursday to cover the extended line-up.

The announcements signal a possible easing of the rift between Doha and the Riyadh-led group, which in 2017 imposed bans on shipping, trade, direct flights, overflights and land crossings with Qatar.

“Gulf soccer may be giving Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, a new lease on life,” said Gulf analyst James Dorsey.

“The decision not to boycott is the latest indication that Gulf states may be gradually moving to a reduction of tensions that have divided the monarchies.”

The boycotting countries had refused to participate in the previous Gulf Cup two years ago, which was originally scheduled to be held in Qatar just a few months after the crisis erupted.

But they took part when the tournament was subsequently moved to Kuwait.

“[We] officially accepted Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain’s participation in the 24th Gulf Cup in Doha at their request,” said Jasem Al Shukali, vice-president of the AGCFF in front of the logos of the Saudi and UAE soccer federations.

The Saudi-led alliance had so far defied pressure from Washington to lift its blockade on Qatar, which hosts a huge US air base.

The development prompted a mixed response from Qataris, with many welcoming the move but calling for an immediate end to the blockade.

“They are talking about signs that the Gulf crisis is coming to an end,” Hamad Lahdan Al Mohannadi, a Qatari engineer, said on Twitter.

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