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Morocco recalls envoy to Saudi Arabia as diplomatic tensions rise

Move said to be due to airing by Saudi Arabia's Al Arabiya documentary that diverged from Rabat's position on Western Sahara issue
Ambassador Mustapha Mansouri, centre, returned to Rabat one week ago (AFP)

Morocco has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia for consultations, indicating apparent cracks in relations between the traditional allies over Yemen, Qatar and Western Sahara, Moroccan media has reported.

Ambassador Mustapha Mansouri confirmed on Friday the recall to Morocco's Le360, the pro-establishment news website said.

The recall is due to the airing by Saudi TV channel Al Arabiya of a documentary that diverged from the Moroccan position on the Western Sahara issue, the ambassador told Le360.

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Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have traditionally supported Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara, which is disputed by the Algerian-backed pro-independence Polisario Front.

The ambassador added that Morocco and Saudi Arabia are bound by strong and longstanding ties that are currently undergoing a "transient crisis", Le360 reported.

There was no official confirmation from Morocco's foreign ministry regarding the recall, the Reuters news agency reported.

Mansouri did not respond to a request for comment and the Saudi embassy in Rabat also declined to comment, the Reuters news agency reported.

A government official told Reuters on Thursday that the ambassador had been in Morocco for about a week, without specifying the reason.

Morocco government officials told the AP news agency on Thursday that Morocco had also stopped its participation in the Saudi-led coalition's military action in Yemen.

One of the officials said Morocco was no longer involved in military interventions or ministerial meetings in the coalition.

Morocco had already scaled back its involvement in coalition activities in May 2015, after one of its F-16 fighter jets was reportedly shot down by the Houthis.

Moroccan-Saudi tensions

The broadcasting of the Al Arabiya documentary came after Qatari TV channel Al Jazeera last month aired an interview with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, who expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Bourita told Al Jazeera that Morocco's participation in Yemen had changed due to "developments on the ground" in the country, "especially in regards to the humanitarian situation".

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The four-year war and the country's economic collapse have unleashed the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 14 million of Yemen's 29 million population facing starvation.

Tension in Moroccan-Saudi relations has been silently brewing since the rise to power of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the Gulf kingdom's de facto ruler, political analysts in Morocco say.

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, did not vote for Morocco's 2026 World Cup bid after the north African kingdom took a neutral stand in a dispute between Qatar and a number of Gulf states who have severed relations with Doha.

Morocco did not voice support for Saudi Arabia in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October and the Saudi crown prince was not received in Morocco last year while on a North African tour. 

Bourita said the visit did not take place due to what he described as a scheduling conflict.