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Direct Tel Aviv-Doha flights to operate during World Cup

Direct charter flights will operate between Israel and Qatar, which do not have formal diplomatic ties, during the upcoming World Cup in Doha

November 11, 2022 at 6:56 pm

Direct charter flights will operate between Israel and Qatar, which do not have formal diplomatic ties, during the upcoming World Cup in Doha, FIFA said on Thursday, facilitating attendance by eligible Israeli and Palestinian fans, Reuters reports.

The world governing body said it brokered the deal that would allow holders of match tickets and a valid Hayya fan ID on flights from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to Doha’s Hamad International during the one-month event.

A Qatari official told Reuters the agreement applies to all Palestinians, including those living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

“With this deal, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy football together,” FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, said in a statement.

The agreement requires Palestinian ticket holders and media “to travel on these chartered flights with no restrictions as they have an equal right to enjoy the tournament,” an unnamed spokesperson for Q22, Qatar’s tournament operator, said in FIFA’s statement.

Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, said in a separate statement that negotiations over several months led to an agreement to open “an Israeli office in Qatar to provide services to fans coming for the World Cup”.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry added in a statement that “it was agreed that an Israeli consular team will provide consular services to the Israeli citizens (attending the World Cup)”.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Reuters the Israeli consular team would be based in Qatar during the tournament, the first to be held in the Middle East and which runs from 20 November to 18 December. Asked to provide details on the consular team, the spokesperson said they would be Israeli citizens with expertise in the field.

Read: Qatar refuses to operate Israel mobile phones during World Cup

When asked for comment on Israel’s consular plans, the Qatari official pointed Reuters to the FIFA statement which said that a Doha-based travel company would, in coordination with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, provide consular assistance to Israeli visitors in Qatar during the World Cup.

In June, when Israel announced that citizens could attend the World Cup in Qatar, Lapid, who is also Foreign Minister, said it “opens a new door for us to warm ties”.

The agreement on direct flights does not change Qatar’s stance on normalising relations with Israel which is linked to Palestinian statehood, the Qatari official said.

“This is part of Qatar’s commitment to FIFA’s hosting requirements and it should not be politicised,” the official said. “Because of this agreement, Palestinians will now be able to enjoy the first World Cup in the Arab and Muslim world.”

The Qatari official later added that Doha had conveyed to Israel “that any escalation in Jerusalem, Gaza or West Bank during (the World Cup) will risk the cancellation of the agreement, including the direct flights.”

Israeli passport holders can usually only travel to Qatar on special visas issued for sports fixtures or conferences. There are no existing direct flights between the two countries.

A source familiar with the agreement, which declined to be named due to sensitivities, said there were talks with Royal Jordanian Airlines to operate the World Cup charter flights.

The flight arrangement is “subject to Israel’s security requirements and operational capabilities,” FIFA said.

At least 8,000 Palestinians and 3,900 Israelis have applied for a Hayya card, the source said.

Qatar’s Gulf neighbours, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, forged ties with Israel under US-brokered pacts in 2020.

READ: 30,000 Israelis to travel to Qatar for World Cup