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Bahrain to 'unnecessarily' fly thousands of Gulf Cup fans to Kuwait.. then U-turn to blockaded-Qatar Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Bahrain to 'unnecessarily' fly thousands of Gulf Cup fans to Kuwait.. then U-turn to blockaded-Qatar

Bahrain has been granted permission to fly directly to Doha [Twitter]

Date of publication: 8 December, 2019

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Thousands of Bahraini fans will be flown in to watch Gulf Cup final in Doha, though the flight will take longer than usual because of the blockade.
Bahrain is expected to send 11 planes full of fans to attend the finals of the Arabian Gulf Cup tournament in Qatar on Sunday, but the Gulf state has refused to fly directly to the neighbouring country.

More than 1,500 Bahraini fans will be flown in to watch the match against Saudi Arabia in Doha, though the usual 80 nautical mile trip will be extended to a whopping 532 nautical miles due to the Saudi-Emirati-Bahraini imposed air, land and sea blockade imposed on Qatar.

“All Gulf Air jets bound for Doha are all flying via Kuwait airspace, before turning 180° to continue to Doha,” aviation analyst Alex Macheras posted on Twitter.

The move to abide by the blockade came despite Qatar officially granting Bahrain permission to fly directly into its airspace instead of heading north toward Kuwait before returning south to Qatar, Macheras added.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain imposed a sea, land and air blockade of Qatar in June 2017 accusing it of having ties radical groups, allegations which Doha has repeatedly denied.

However, all three landed in Qatar earlier this month to take part in the 24th edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup, which saw their national carriers land in Doha for the first time since the start of the blockade.

The Saudi team flew using the kingdom's national carrier Saudi Arabian airlines directly from the neighbouring kingdom to Qatar, in effect breaking its own two-year air, land and sea blockade on Doha.

Meanwhile, the UAE and Bahraini teams flew via Kuwait, a route which has been taken by Qatari nationals and residents since 2017, after Qatari airlines were barred from flying through Saudi or UAE airspace.

They are also forced to transit via Oman or Kuwait before landing in blockading states.

Official videos posted showed tall three national teams receive official receptions at Hamad International Airport before transferring to their residence in a coach branded in their respective colours.

"Welcome all, via sea and land, Qatar welcomes you," lyrics of an official song for the tournament chanted in the background of videos showcasing the reception of the teams.

The arrivals of the teams came less than a week after the kingdom and its Emirati and Bahraini allies confirmed they would attend the tournament in Qatar despite the trio imposing a blockade on Qatar, in what many believed to be the start of soothing ties between the Gulf states.

Writer Jaber al-Harami told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that there are real signs at the moment there could be a breakthrough, with sports as a vehicle to resolving the crisis.

Harami sees a way out of the current deadlock by the next Gulf summit, scheduled to be held in the UAE in December, but believes the first step must be to re-open the borders with Qatar and lift the siege on the emirate.

Academic and former advisor to the UAE's crown prince Abdulkhaleq Abdulla tweeted: "I can share with you that there have been important developments in resolving the Gulf dispute sooner than expected," without specifying further details.

"Sports fans may be the key to opening the borders and ending the siege,” Harami added.

Hopes began to bear fruit on Friday after reports confirmed Qatar and Saudi Arabia held talks that could signal the end of the Gulf diplomatic crisis, according to Qatar's foreign minister.

Speaking at a foreign policy conference in Rome, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani expressed hopes for "progress" in resolving the Gulf crisis, saying Riyadh and Doha have "moved rom a stalemate".

"We have moved from a stalemate to some progress where ... some talks took place between us and specifically Saudi," the Qatari foreign minister was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera at the MED 2019 conference.

"We hope that these talks will lead to our progress where we can see an end for the crisis."

He added that officials from both states had held talks on several occasions, however refused to confirm recent reports that he had personally travelled to Riyadh to negotiate the blockade's end.

Qatar has always denied the charges levelled by the Saudi-led bloc, while also rejecting a list of 13 key demands placed by the quartet to end the blockade. Among the demands made was that Qatar distance itself from Iran and shutter several Doha-based media outlets, including The New Arab and Al Jazeera.

Prior to the Sheikh Mohammed's remarks on Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the foreign minister had visited Riyadh in October in a bid to end the standoff. The top Qatari diplomat reportedly met Saudi officials and made an offer to resolve the rift.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia's King Salman invited Qatar's emir to a summit meeting next week of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh. Kuwaiti Prime Minister Khaled Al-Sabah said on Sunday that the forthcoming GCC summit would be “an extremely important step forward to Gulf reconciliation”.

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