ISTANBUL - Turkey sent a first ship of food supplies to Qatar on Thursday and was also sending a small contingent of soldiers, media reported, while President Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Saudi Arabia’s leaders on calming tensions in the region.

Turkey has backed Qatar after Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab states cut all economic and diplomatic ties with Doha this month, accusing it of supporting terrorism, a charge it denies.

Ankara has also sought to keep up good relations with the rest of the Gulf and sources from Erdogan’s office said he spoke by phone overnight with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and new crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, congratulating the latter on his promotion.

“Agreement was reached on increasing efforts towards ending tension in the region related to Qatar,” the sources said in a statement regarding the phone calls on Thursday. Turkey’s parliament fast-tracked legislation on June 7 to allow more troops to be deployed to a military base in Qatar that houses Turkish soldiers under an agreement signed in 2014.

According to the website of the mainstream Hurriyet newspaper, 25 soldiers and five armored vehicles were being sent to Qatar on Thursday to join 88 Turkish soldiers already there. Turkish officials were not immediately available to comment.

After the deployment, a joint exercise by Turkish and Qatari forces was expected following the Eidul Fitr holiday, Hurriyet said.

The number of Turkish soldiers sent to the Gulf state could eventually reach 1,000, it said, adding that an air force contingent was also envisaged.

Tillerson urges Gulf

demands be sent to Qatar

The United States hopes Arab countries involved in a diplomatic split with Qatar will soon present Doha a list of “reasonable and actionable” demands to move the crisis toward a resolution, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday.

Tillerson’s comments came in a short statement a day after the State Department bluntly questioned the motives of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in announcing their boycott of Qatar on June 5, saying it was “mystified” the Gulf states had not released their grievances.

It was Washington’s strongest language yet on a dispute that erupted after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and transport links to isolate Qatar. The Arab countries accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional instability or cosying up to their enemy Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.

“We understand a list of demands has been prepared and coordinated by the Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians and Bahrainis,” the Tillerson statement said. “We hope the list ... will soon be presented to Qatar and will be reasonable and actionable.”

Tillerson also said the United States backs a Kuwaiti mediation effort aimed at resolving the crisis.

Asked about the Qatar issue at a later news conference, Tillerson said the United States wanted to achieve unity among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries so that they can focus on the fight against Islamic State militants across the region.

“Our role has been to encourage the parties to get their issues on the table, clearly articulated, so that those issues can be addressed and some resolution process can get under way to bring this to a conclusion,” Tillerson said.

Qatar hosts a vital US military base, Al Udeid, to which more than 11,000 US and coalition forces are deployed or assigned and from which more than 100 aircraft operate.

US President Donald Trump has taken a tough stance on Qatar, accusing it of being a “high level” sponsor of terrorism, but he has also offered help to the parties in the dispute to resolve their differences.