Direct Israel-Qatar flights approved for World Cup, air carrier confirms

Cyprus’s Tus Airways to fly 12 flights between Tel Aviv and Doha for the soccer tournament set to be attended by 10,000 Israeli and Palestinian fans

A giant poster depicting Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer covers a skyscraper ahead of the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, November 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
A giant poster depicting Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer covers a skyscraper ahead of the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, November 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Israeli soccer fans will be able to fly directly to Doha for World Cup games after Qatar approved the flights despite severed diplomatic ties, the Cypriot carrier that will operate the route confirmed Friday.

Israel and FIFA said last week that Qatar had agreed to special direct flights but did not provide details. Larnaca-based Tus Airways had offered flights with a stopover in Cyprus.

A Tus Airways official told AFP the airline had received approval from the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority on Friday to operate six direct flights between Tel Aviv and Doha and six direct return flights.

The first flight would leave Ben Gurion airport on Sunday morning, the official said, adding that the direct flights would not continue after the World Cup ends.

Diplomatic sources said more than 10,000 Israeli and Palestinian fans have secured tickets for the 29-day tournament.

An Israeli diplomatic delegation has arrived in Doha to provide consular services during the World Cup.

Israel has warned its citizens to downplay their Israeli identity and hide Israeli symbols while in Qatar.

Fans wearing Brazilian jerseys take pictures at Flags plaza in Doha on November 17, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. (Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

Qatar established trade relations with Israel in 1996, the first Gulf state to do so.

But in 2000, Israel’s trade office in Qatar was closed down by authorities and relations between the two countries were permanently severed in 2009 over a conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups.

Doha supports Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that controls Gaza and has launched repeated conflicts with Israel since forcibly taking over the Strip in 2007.

Jerusalem engages with Doha to grant permissions for the distribution of Qatari aid in Gaza, but details on such contacts are rarely publicly confirmed.

Israeli officials have expressed hope that a positive, hassle-free Israeli presence in Qatar for the World Cup could advance Israel’s ambitions to further integrate into the region after the normalization deals with two of Doha’s Gulf Arab neighbors.

Qatar has been critical of the 2020 US-brokered agreements known as the Abraham Accords, which saw Israel normalize relations with three Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.

People gather around the official countdown clock showing remaining time until the kick-off of the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, November 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Tensions between Israel and Qatar surged following the May killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering an army raid in the West Bank.

The Doha-based network and the Qatari state both accused Israel of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh. The Israeli army has conceded that one of its troops had likely shot her, but said it was an accident.

The World Cup has sparked multiple controversies — from the deaths and living conditions of migrant workers, to the impact on the environment of air-conditioned stadiums, and the position and rights of LGBTQ people, women and minorities. Israel told LGBTQ fans to not display their identity in public.

Additionally, on Friday Qatar banned the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums, a sudden U-turn on the deal it made to secure the soccer tournament — only two days before the opening game.

TOI staff and AP contributed to this report.

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