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Egypt, Qatar trade barbs in dispute over Libya strikes

CAIRO (Reuters) - A senior Egyptian diplomat on Thursday accused Qatar of supporting terrorism after Qatar recalled its ambassador from Cairo in a dispute over Egyptian air strikes on Islamic State targets in Libya.

Egyptian jets bombed sites in Libya on Monday hours in response to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by Islamic State militants there.

The Arab League expressed its “complete understanding” over the Egyptian action and threw its weight behind Cairo’s call for a lifting of the arms embargo on the Libyan army.

But at a subsequent Arab League meeting, Qatar expressed reservations over the attack.

The state news agency QNA had said earlier that Qatar had recalled its ambassador to Egypt, reviving a diplomatic row following a recent improvement in relations.

Qatari foreign ministry official Saad bin Ali al-Muhannadi told the meeting his government had misgivings on unilateral military action on another member that could harm innocent civilians. It would also give an advantage to one side in Libya’s conflict, he said.

The Qatari reservations drew swift condemnation from the Egyptian envoy to the league, Tareq Adel, who said they showed s Doha “supports terrorism,” according to Egyptian news agency MENA.

The head of the Gulf Cooperation Council in turn rejected Tareq Adel’s comments - indicating the council did not want to revive an internal rift which peaked when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha last year over its support for Islamists.

“These accusations are baseless, distort the truth and ignore the sincere efforts Qatar has exerted with its GCC neighbours to combat terrorism and extremism on all its levels,” GCC secretary-general said in a statement.

But in a later statement, Zayani said the GCC continued to supported Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over the military action taken in Libya.

Cairo accuses Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in Egypt in 2013 when the army moved against the elected President Mohamed Mursi.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait have given Egypt billions of dollars in aid since Mursi was ousted.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya, in an interview with the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper published on Thursday, said Doha did not support the Muslim Brotherhood.

Attiya said that there were “differences of opinion, which is healthy, and not disputes” between Gulf Arab countries.

Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Noah Browning, Writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by Angus MacSwan