By Ibrahim Saber and Tom FinnABU SAMRA, QATAR-SAUDI ARABIA BORDER, June 20 (Reuters) -
T housands of camels crossed Saudi Arabia's desert border into
Qatar on Tuesday and were reunited with their owners after being
stranded for days at a frontier shut because of a feud among
Qatari men in traditional white robes waited in SUVs at the
border to identify their camels as the beasts trotted across the
remote frontier, braying and kicking up dust, under what the
owners said was an informal deal with Saudi border guards.
"Thank God I have my camels back!" said Ali Magareh, 40,
waiting with his seven-year-old son at the crossing point.
"For one week they kept them waiting there. The camels were
starving. Some of the males were fighting and in very bad
condition. My brother still has 10 or 11 camels in Saudi
Arabia," he said.
A June 5 decision by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to
cut diplomatic ties and all transport links with Qatar over its
alleged support for terrorism has disrupted trade, split
families and raised fears of military confrontation in the Gulf
region. Qatar has denied accusations of links to terrorism.
Tribesmen in Qatar whose relatives span the modern-day
borders of the Arabian Peninsula say the boycott is threatening
traditions dear to them including camel herding and falconry.
Hundreds of Qataris keep camels in desert areas in eastern
Saudi Arabia during winter months to train and breed them for
races and beauty contests - customs seen as an important link to
a vanishing nomadic past. Prize camels sell in auctions for
hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Pictures of Asian workers tending to camels languishing on
the Saudi side of the border were published in Qatari newspapers
on Monday sparking outrage.
The Qatari government sent a convoy of water tankers and
trucks carrying grass to the border on Monday to nourish the
camels that had crossed the border.
Before the discovery of vast natural gas reserves off
Qatar's coast that crowned the small Gulf peninsular country
with skyscrapers, bedouin roamed the desert and depended on meat
and milk from camels to survive.
"We fought wars over camels," said Magareh. "It's one of our
traditions. Not having camels in Qatar is like being a cowboy
who has no cows."
He blamed leaders in the Gulf for falling victim to
political bickering. "What can I say? Even if they have
differences in politics, we are the people. Don't push us into
your fight," he said.
"We just want to live out our days, to go to Saudi Arabia
and take care of our camels and go back and take care of our
family. We don't want to be involved in these political things.
We are not happy."
(Writing by Tom Finn; editing by Mark Heinrich)
Keywords: GULF QATAR/SAUDI CAMELS (PIX, TV)