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Israel to allow flights to and from Qatar during the World Cup

Israel will open its airspace to international flights en route to and from Qatar during this year’s FIFA World Cup after an agreement was reached on Wednesday with Jordanian and European aviation authorities that is expected to cut flight times.

The event, announced by the Israel Airports Authority, comes a week after the Israeli government entered into an agreement with the world football organization FIFA allowing Israeli football fans to travel to Qatar for the World Cup in November and December, despite the two countries not have official diplomatic relations.

European and American fans traveling to Qatar will be able to fly over Israel, traveling east from Cyprus to Jordan en route to the Persian Gulf and also on the way back, according to an announcement made on Wednesday.

A source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that the agreement will continue even after the World Cup on eastbound flights to Qatar.

The Israeli Civil Aviation Authority (IAA), the Israeli Air Force and the Civil Aviation Authority have reached an agreement with the Jordanian aviation authorities and with the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, known as Eurocontrol.

The IAA said the deal would see many more flights over Israel in addition to flights to and from Qatar, more than doubling the number of overflights.

“Israel is demonstrating sportsmanship and opening up its air borders for the benefit of passengers,” Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said. “I welcome the cooperation and am happy to strengthen additional regional cooperation.”

People gather around the official countdown clock showing the time remaining until the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar on November 25, 2021. (AP/Darko Bandic)

Last week, the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, culture and sports announced in a joint statement that Israeli citizens, who can normally only enter Qatar with a foreign passport, will be able to travel freely and attend games during the upcoming tournament.

Under the terms of an agreement with FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, Israelis wishing to attend the game must purchase a match ticket and then apply online for a Fan ID, the approval of which entitles the holder to entry into Qatar and allows them to book accommodation.

The statement did not address concerns about the safety of travel to Qatar, a country with strong ties both to the West and to Iran and the terrorist group Hamas.

Efforts are also being made to facilitate direct flights from Israel to the tiny Persian Gulf country, the announcement at the time said. The issue remains unresolved as Wednesday’s agreement does not facilitate direct flights between Israel and Qatar.

The pressure on sports tournaments has helped open up new diplomatic horizons for Israel in the Persian Gulf. In 2018, two years before a ties agreement with Israel, Abu Dhabi allowed the Israeli flag to be displayed and the anthem to be played during sporting events, ending a longstanding policy the United Arab Emirates shared with most other Gulf states.

Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office from 1995 to 2000, but is unlikely to join other Gulf states in establishing full ties with Israel due to its relationship with Iran.

Amy Spiro contributed to this report.

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