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The United Arab Emirates has rejected a report alleging it arranged for the Qatari government's news sites to be hacked. The incident has sparked a diplomatic crisis and left Qatar largely isolated in the Gulf region.
The United Arab Emirates' foreign affairs minister, Anwar Gargash, on Monday dismissed as fabrication a Washington Post report saying his country orchestrated the alleged cyber attack.
"The Washington Post story today that we actually hacked the Qataris is also not true," he told the London-based think-tank Chatham House. The Emirati ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, was also quick to deny the report.
The Post's story cited US intelligence sources who said they had new information implicating UAE officials in the attacks on the Qatari government's news sites and social media. The hack also involved the planting of damning false stories about Qatar's emir.
The US sources alleged UAE officials had discussed the planned hacks on May 23, just days before they occurred, but added that it remained unclear whether the UAE carried out the hack itself or paid another entity to do so.
Qatar's government communications office seized on the report, saying it "revealed the involvement" of the UAE and senior Emirati officials. It added that the "crime" against its state news agency by a Gulf nation was a violation of international law.
The US State Department made no immediate comment on the revelations.
The hacking of Qatari media services in May saw the tiny Gulf state's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, quoted as praising Hamas and describing Iran as an "Islamic power."
The report served as a pretext for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE to all accuse Qatar of supporting terrorist groups and to subsequently cut off diplomatic and transport ties. The move has left the Gulf kingdom effectively isolated in the region.
Qatar has always maintained that the quotes were fabricated, although those claims have been rejected by the boycotting countries.
Gargash told Chatham House the four Arab powers were in the process of discussing additional sanctions on Doha.
"There will be some tightening of the screws," he said. "We will see what are these screws, whether they are financial, whether they are other, but they completely within our (remit) as sovereign states."
Gargash also warned Qatar that it could not belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) if it undermined regional security. "We either reach an agreement and Qatar's behaviour changes, or Qatar makes its own bed and they can move on and we can move with a new relationship. But we cannot have a member who is undermining us and supporting extremism," he said.
The diplomatic stand-off has also had a bearing on US policy in the region, particularly in the fight against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group.
While all countries involved are allies with Washington, US President Donald Trump has sided with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, backing their assertion that Qatar enjoys links to Islamist groups. Nevertheless, Qatar continues to be the home for some 10,000 US troops and hosts the regional headquarters of US Central Command for the Middle East as part of the US' fight against IS.
nm/rt (Reuters, AP)