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Islands split between 2 Gulf states

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Seeking to settle a quarrel dating back to Arab tribal wars more than 100 years ago, the World Court on Friday awarded Bahrain the largest of a string of disputed islands in the Persian Gulf but gave Qatar smaller islands.

In Bahrain, hundreds of people poured onto the street of Manama, the capital, to celebrate the ruling with dancing and honking car horns. Qatar quietly accepted the verdict and said it was putting the ancient dispute behind it.

Ending a 10-year judicial battle, the court said the Hawar islands would remain with Bahrain, but Qatar would gain sovereignty over a smaller island region, including Janan Island, to the south.

Officials said the ruling virtually sliced the disputed region equally between the two parties.

The judgment delineated the maritime boundary between the countries, including an area where oil and gas explorations are planned.

The dispute has soured relations between the two countries long before they gained independence from Britain in 1971. In the 19th century, the British tried to mediate between quarreling sheiks to preserve maritime peace and secure shipping lanes.

The dispute flared in 1986 when Qatari forces seized 29 workers sent by Bahrain to build a coast guard station on a contested reef.

It was the first case from the Middle East to have come before the court, and was being closely watched by other Gulf states who have similar disputes.

The United Arab Emirates is contesting Iran's possession of three tiny islands in the south of the Gulf but has failed to persuade Iran to agree to World Court arbitration. Qatar has a territorial dispute with Saudi Arabia.