Direct Tel Aviv-Doha flights to operate during World Cup

DOHA/JERUSALEM, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Direct charter flights will operate between Israel and Qatar, which have no official diplomatic relations, at the upcoming World Cup in Doha, FIFA said on Thursday, facilitating participation eligible Israeli and Palestinian supporters.

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

“Thanks to this agreement, 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 charter flights without any restrictions as they have an equal right to enjoy the tournament”, said an unnamed spokesperson for Q22, the tournament’s operator. Qatar, in a statement from FIFA.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a separate statement that months-long negotiations had resulted in 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 has been agreed that an Israeli consular team will provide consular services to Israeli citizens (participating in the World Cup).”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman 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 November 20 to December 18. Asked to provide details of the consular team, the spokesperson said they would be Israeli citizens with expertise in the field.

When asked to comment on Israel’s consular plans, the Qatari official pointed to Reuters’ FIFA statement that a Doha-based travel agency would, in coordination with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, provide assistance Consular to Israeli visitors to 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 direct flight deal does not change Qatar’s position on normalizing relations with Israel which is tied to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Qatari official said.

“It’s part of Qatar’s commitment to FIFA hosting requirements and it shouldn’t be politicized,” the official said. “Thanks to this agreement, the 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 made it clear to Israel “that any escalation in Jerusalem, Gaza or the West Bank during (the World Cup) would risk the cancellation of the agreement, including direct flights.”

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

A source familiar with the deal, who declined to be named due to sensitivities, said there were talks with Royal Jordanian Airlines (RJAL.AM) to operate 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 neighbors the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged ties with Israel under US-brokered pacts in 2020.

Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Written by Andrew Mills; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Kirsten Donovan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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