Qatar has withdrawn from a regional mediation process in Yemen, leaving a deal to end months of violent protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule close to collapse.
Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar's prime minister, informed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Thursday of his decision, which he based on "indecision and delays in the signature of the proposed agreement" and "the intensity of the clashes" in cities across Yemen.
Witnesses say at least 19 demonstrators have been killed in recent days, and an alleged Al Qaeda ambush killed five Yemeni soldiers on Friday morning.
Qatar's withdrawal comes about a week after both the Yemeni and Bahraini leaderships refused the deal.
It also comes as GCC secretary-general Abdullatif al-Zayani's planned to visit Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on Saturday, in an attempt to revive the mediation initiative.
Zayani made a statement on Thursday saying that the initiative is "the best exit to the tragic situation in Yemen", and calling for all GCC states to support the process.
The GCC mediation, which was launched in early April, has brought on a diplomatic crisis between Doha and Sanaa, fuelled on both sides.
In response to a statement by Al Thani that Saleh must step down, Yemen recalled its ambassador from Qatar.
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The relationship was further deteriorated when Saleh told Russia Today television that "The state of Qatar is funding chaos in Yemen and in Egypt and Syria and throughout the Arab world". Saleh also accused Al Jazeera, which is funded by Qatar's government, of provoking the protests.
In its current form, the GCC plan proposes the formation in Sanaa of a national unity government in which Saleh would transfer power to his vice-president and end the deadly crackdown on protests. Elections would follow two months later.
The GCC deal would also offer immunity to Saleh, a proposal which was heavily criticised by the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch.
Rising death toll
After the most recent clashes, the group's regional director, Joe Stork, said "The GCC member states and other governments involved in negotiations for President Saleh's exit should immediately pull immunity from the table".
Rights campaigners say the death toll of Yemen's protests passed 160 after intense clashes on Wednesday, which saw Yemeni security forces opening fire at protesters.
The Associated Press also reported on Thursday night that Yemen's oil production has stopped because of the protests, strikes and attacks on pipelines.
On Friday morning, a military vehicle was attacked near the town of Marib, killing five Yemeni soldiers.
A security official said the vehicle was ambushed with a rocket-propelled grenade, and that Yemen suspects the attack was carried out by Al Qaeda fighters.
Source: Al Jazeera and Agencies