March 27, 2018 / 3:21 PM / a year ago

Top Saudi clerics condemn Qatar's Al Jazeera after missile attacks: SPA

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s top religious body accused Qatari-owned Al Jazeera TV of being a “mouthpiece for terrorist organisations”, two days after Yemen’s Houthi movement fired a barrage of missiles at the kingdom.

The first direct condemnation by the influential state religious body of the pan-Arab TV channel ramps up Riyadh’s 10-month-old feud with Doha as tensions with Iran mount.

“History will not forget that Qatar’s Al Jazeera was and still is a platform for the propagandists of terrorism and its leaders,” the body said in a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA.

“It is now ... spreading the speeches of the leader of Houthi terrorist militias in coordination with him in a clear targeting of the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

A spokesperson from Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Saudi forces said they had shot down three missiles over Riyadh shortly before midnight. Air defences also repelled missiles fired at the southern Saudi cities of Najran, Jizan and Khamis Mushait, the coalition said.

The Houthi group, which hails from a Shi’ite Muslim sect, is aligned to Sunni Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran. Saudi military spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said on Monday that the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis reserved the right to respond to Iran “at the appropriate time and manner”.

The standoff over the TV channel lies at the heart of a dispute that led Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain to cut travel and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing Islamists and their arch-foe Iran.

They say Qatar uses the channel as a mouthpiece to attack them and back Islamist groups across the Arab world and has demanded it be closed down, while Doha insists it is independent and offers uncensored debate absent on other Arab networks.

On Monday, Qatar condemned the attacks on Saudi cities as “a violation of international law”.

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Noah Browning and Catherine Evans

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