Back on the map: Damascus opens its airspace to Qatar Airways
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Back on the map: Damascus opens its airspace to Qatar Airways

First airline returns to Syrian skies after years of extended detours to circumvent war zone

This photo taken on June 15, 2015, shows a Qatar Airways A350 900 on the tarmac during the International Paris Airshow at Le Bourget on June 15, 2015.  (AFP Photo/Eric Piermont)
This photo taken on June 15, 2015, shows a Qatar Airways A350 900 on the tarmac during the International Paris Airshow at Le Bourget on June 15, 2015. (AFP Photo/Eric Piermont)

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s government has agreed to allow planes from regional aviation giant Qatar Airways to fly over the country after eight years of conflict kept its planes at bay.

“Transport Minister Ali Hammoud has agreed to allow Qatar Airways to cross Syrian airspace, based on a request from the Qatari civil aviation authority,” the ministry said late Monday in a statement.

Most airlines stopped flying over Syria after war broke out in 2011, instead taking longer routes to circumvent the war zone.

But the conflict has largely wound down in recent years, after major regime advances against rebels and jihadists with Russian military backing since 2015.

“The agreement came on the principle of reciprocity, as SyrianAir crosses Qatari airspace and never stopped flying to Doha throughout the war,” it said.

The use of Syrian airspace would see “increased revenues in hard currency for the benefit of the Syrian state,” it added.

Qatar, a small Gulf state that has traditionally supported the Syrian opposition, suspended its ties with Damascus after the war broke out.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League in November 2011, as the death toll was escalating and several regional powers bet on President Bashar Assad’s demise.

But his regime today controls almost 60 percent of the country.

Fellow Gulf states the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have reopened their missions in Damascus.

A high-ranking Iraqi official told AFP last year that Baghdad was helping to mediate a restoration of ties between Damascus and Doha.

But Qatar, a country in a bitter feud with its Gulf neighbors, in January ruled out the possibility of reopening an embassy in the Syrian capital.

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