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Why Saudi Arabia is mad at Qatar and why we care

The rift between Qatar and other Arab nations intensified Monday when Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar and at least five Gulf-based airlines announced they will halt service to the desert peninsula nation.

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-dominated nation, has long had tense relations with Shiite Iran and has developed a "Sunni coalition" in the region to curb Iran's influence. The U.S. supports the Saudi effort. Qatar is predominantly Sunni and is a member of the coalition but has close economic ties with Iran, including sharing a major offshore gas reserve.

Last week, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani roiled the Saudis when he phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with congratulations on his re-election.

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Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen cut ties to Qatar on Monday, claiming the energy-rich monarchy is undermining stability in the region by supporting in the Iran-aligned militant groups. Authorities gave Qataris living in and visiting their countries two weeks to leave.

Iran's National Security Commission chief Alaeddin Boroujerdi blamed President Trump's recent visit to Saudi Arabia and U.S. interventions for the rift. The Saudis agreed to a lucrative, $300 billion arms deal that could have emboldened its leadership, believing the U.S. will support actions against Qatar.

Tensions first boiled over two weeks ago with Qatar's publication of a story that said Al Thani had called Iran "a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored." Qatar said its state-run news agency and Twitter account were hacked and the story was fake, but state-linked media continued to publish the comments. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt blocked access to Al Jazeera and affiliated sites.

The United States has close ties to both nations. Saudi Arabia is the closest U.S. ally in the region, and Qatar is home to al-Udeid Air Base and almost 10,000 U.S. troops. Qatar is no outlier to the West: It is scheduled to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a month-long international soccer tournament and the world's most popular sports event. It is also the world's biggest producer of liquefied natural gas and shares an underwater field with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has the only land border with Qatar, and Qatar's population of more than 2.5 million people is fed by supply trucks that roll across the border.

Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the measures unjustified and "based on baseless and unfounded allegations." Qatar has relentlessly denied claims supporting militant groups in the region. But the country has drawn a cool reception by other Sunni nations for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Qatar also is a primary financial backer in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and several other countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking at a news conference in Australia, said there has been a "growing list of some irritants" in the region in recent months.

"Obviously they have now bubbled up to a level that countries decided they needed to take action in an effort to have those differences addressed," Tillerson said. "We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences, and we — if there's any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those — we think it is important that the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) remains unified."