Turkish troops have arrived in Qatar to take part in joint training exercises, the Qatari defence ministry has said, as a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf enters its third week.
The first drills took place on Sunday at the Tariq bin Ziyad military base in Doha, the ministry said in a statement.
Qatar has been subject to an embargo led by Saudi Arabia since 5 June, when Riyadh and its allies including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties over accusations that Qatar supports extremism. Qatar says those allegations are an attempt to compromise the independence of its foreign policy.
Turkey, one of Qatar’s strongest allies, has offered diplomatic support and flown in fresh dairy produce to get around the blockade.
Although the military drills had been “planned for some time” according to the Qatari defence ministry, the message of cohesion is significant given the extent to which both sides have been anxious to demonstrate how they are winning international support.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been outspoken in his support for the Qatari cause, condemning the Saudi-led blockade as “almost like a death sentence” for Qatar.
“Qatar is not the one who supports terrorism, quite the opposite,” he said last week. “Along with Turkey, it is the country with the most resolute stance against Isis which has caused grave damage to our region.”
Ankara and Doha are closely aligned on a number of diplomatic and economic fronts, with neither regarding the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas as “terrorist organisations”. Qatar has also invested heavily in Turkey.
Doha-based broadcaster al-Jazeera – one of the targets of the anti-Qatar moves – carried images on its website of a column of armoured personnel carriers moving through streets on Sunday.
On 7 June – the third day of the crisis – the Turkish parliament fast-tracked legislation to allow the troops to be sent to Qatar. A military assessment team was then sent to Qatar to prepare for the deployment.
On Monday, Qatar accused its regional opponents of a “publicity stunt” aimed at attacking its image and reputation.
“The blockade has been ongoing for two weeks and the blockading nations have offered no formula for resolving the crisis,” Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed al-Thani, a Qatari government spokesmant.
“Meanwhile, the humanitarian impact of the blockade is real. Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini families are being forcibly recalled by their governments today, despite being invited to stay by the government of Qatar. The social fabric … is being torn apart for political reasons and we will not allow ourselves to be a party to this injustice.
“The blockading nations seem to be more interested in attacking Qatar in the media than attacking the terrorists on the battlefield.”