Saudi Arabia appears to be further distancing itself from Qatar, this time literally.
The country is moving forward with plans to dig a canal along its 61km border with Qatar, which would turn its Gulf rival into an island, local media has reported.
Reports first published by Makkah Newspaper indicate five international companies have been invited to bid for the project, called the "Salwa Channel," with a deadline set for Monday. Sources told Makkah that Saudi authorities will announce the winner of the contract deal within 90 days, and hope to complete the canal by the end of the year.
Previous reports, including one in state-linked news site Sabq, said the canal was still awaiting government approval, but was expected to be 200 meters wide and 15-20 meters deep. Initial estimates put the cost of the project at around R1 billion (2.8 billion Saudi riyals).
The government hopes the site will provide a major tourism boost to the border region, Sabq reported, with Saudi Arabia vying to build resorts and establish marine tours in the region.
However, the paper later indicated that part of the canal would also be converted into a military base and a nuclear waste burial site.
Saudi guards officially took control of the Salwa border crossing in April, cutting off Qatar's only land-link, potentially signifying imminent plans to develop the canal.
The move is likely aimed at further isolating Qatar, which lost ties with Gulf nations last year. Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE cut diplomatic ties after months of hostility, citing Qatar's alleged sponsorship of regional terror groups. The quartet also demanded that Qatar shut down its state-funded network Al Jazeera. Qatar denies the allegations and has said the moves were aimed at undermining its sovereignty.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia's King Salman reportedly threatened military action against Qatar if it installed a Russian air defense system.
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