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Saudi Arabia to mediate in Bahrain-Qatar row

King Abdullah trying to clear up Qatar-Bahrain differences

Saudi Arabia has offered to mediate in a row between fellow Gulf states Qatar and Bahrain which has led to arrests of Bahrain-based fishermen by Qatar, a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) official said on Thursday.

Analysts say tension has been high since Bahrain nominated Mohammad al-Mutawa, a former Bahraini information minister said to be disliked by Doha, as the next secretary general of the GCC, a six-member regional bloc.

Saudi King Abdullah has offered to mediate in the nomination dispute, an official at the GCC Secretariat told Reuters, declining to be named.

"This is important because it paves the way for Saudi mediation in the issue of the Bahraini sailors held by the Qataris," he said.

The two countries have long had strained ties despite settling a territorial dispute in 2001. Tensions escalated after Bahrain said Qatar's coast guard shot and wounded on May 8 a Bahraini fisherman who had entered Qatari waters.

A Bahraini rights group said on Wednesday that Qatar would put dozens of sailors on mass trial next month for illegally fishing in Qatari waters.

"The catalyst for this mediation has been the seizure by Qatari authorities of the Bahraini sailors," said the official, adding that King Abdullah has been trying for a certain time to help clear up the differences between the two neighbors.

Manama has complained that Qatar was holding 106 fishermen. Qatari officials have not commented on the report.

Analysts say Mutawa is disliked by Qatar because, as information minister, he had led Bahrain's publicity campaign against Qatar during the territorial dispute over the Hawar islands.

The row was settled in 2001 when the World Court awarded the islands to Bahrain but rejected Manama's claim to a disputed town on the Qatari mainland.

Earlier in May, Bahrain suspended the local operations of al-Jazeera, saying it had flouted media rules, after the Qatar-owned television station aired a program about poverty in Bahrain.