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France joins calls to end punitive measures in Qatar diplomacy row

France's foreign minister has called on Qatar's neighbours to immediately lift measures impacting thousands of people in the Gulf, becoming the latest foreign diplomat to visit the region and attempt to find a resolution to a crisis that has dragged on for more than a month.

Last month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and moved to isolate the small, but wealthy Gulf nation, cancelling air routes between their capitals and Qatar's and closing their airspace to Qatari flights.

Saudi Arabia also sealed Qatar's only land border, impacting a key source of food imports in the mostly desert nation.

The four countries also expelled all Qatari nationals, impacting mixed-nationality families in the Gulf, students and people seeking medical treatment abroad, among others.

Prior to the dispute, Qataris could travel visa-free between the Gulf countries.

France Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said such punitive measures should end.

"France is calling for these measures to be lifted, especially ones that affect the (Qatari) population, specifically measures that impact bi-national families that have been separated," Mr Le Drian said.

He was speaking to reporters in Qatar alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who said he welcomed mediation efforts and possible negotiations so long as they are founded on respect for "sovereignty".

The Arab quartet has demanded Qatar end its support of extremist groups, but also its support of Islamist political dissidents they brand as terrorists, but which many Western allies do not.

Other demands include shutting down Qatar's flagship Al-Jazeera network, curbing ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in Qatar.

Qatar has rejected the demands, saying that the list in its entirety infringes on national sovereignty.

Qatar also rejects allegations it has supported terror groups.

Despite the blockade by the four Arab countries, life has not been impacted significantly in Qatar.

The government has stepped in to help pay additional costs of shipping and has looked to its allies, like Turkey, for food imports.

With Qatar holding firm to its position, a top Emirati diplomat cautioned that the diplomatic stand-off could be prolonged.

"We are heading toward a long estrangement," UAE Minister of State for Foreign Relations Anwar al-Gargash wrote on Twitter.

"The reality is we are far from a political solution that changes Qatar's course. In light of that, nothing will change and we must look to a different mode in relations," he added.

Earlier in the week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in the Gulf, meeting separately with officials in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which is trying to mediate the dispute.

In Qatar, he secured an agreement to enhance cooperation on combating terrorism and terror financing.

Saudi commentators criticised the result of Mr Tillerson's visit to Qatar, saying the signed counter-terrorism agreement fell far short of the demands made for Qatar to change its policy of supporting Islamists.

Mr Tillerson, however, said the discussions had been "helpful" and that the US planned to keep at it.

Qatar's Foreign Minister told reporters in Turkey that it would be unfair to describe Mr Tillerson's visit to the Gulf as a failure, insisting that the crisis "cannot be solved in a day".

Qatar hosts al-Udeid Air Base, the largest US military installation in the Middle East and hub for US-led operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are among the world's biggest military spenders, purchasing billions of dollars in equipment from the US and Europe.

All three are considered allies of many Western nations.

AP

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