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Qatar joins Saudi Arabia for joint military exercise

Qatari Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Minister of State for Defense of Qatar, Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah and Qatari Chief of the Army Mubarak Mohammed Al Khayareen pose for a photo with soldiers as part of their visit to US Combined Air Operations Center of Qatar (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar on September 11, 2017. ( Qatari Defense Ministry / Handout - Anadolu Agency )

A contingent of the Qatari military arrived at the King Abdulaziz Air Base in Saudi Arabia yesterday evening in order to join the kingdom in a large joint military exercise, signalling the easing off of the Saudi-led blockade on the small Gulf state.

The Commander of the Qatari force, Brigadier General Khamis Mohammed Dablan, said that the exercise strengthens the relationship and cooperation between the GCC countries, and maintains alignment in the military field in order to face future challenges.

The joint drill, named the “Peninsula Shield”, will continue until 12 March, and will consist of training and exercises on land, sea and air. A similar exercise was conducted last year, bringing together the militaries of 25 countries, particularly those in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

READ: What’s left of the Qatar siege?

This year’s joint exercise, however, is particularly unique and has raised hopes that the exercise leads to the breakdown of the blockade and that relations between the two countries will improve. In the summer of 2017, Saudi Arabia – along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt – enforced a blockade on the small Gulf monarchy, blocking their air, sea and road links to it.

Saudi Arabia and its allies asserted that the blockade was enforced due to Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism in the region and its friendship with Iran in a time of rivalry. Charges Qatar has repeatedly denied, maintaining that its neighbour’s actions are an attempt to force regime change in the small Gulf state.

Reports of the military exercise come amid recent rumours of the UAE easing trade and travel restrictions with Qatar, which the country’s Federal Transport Authority denied today.

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