First commercial flight from Israel to Qatar to depart Sunday for World Cup

Charter flight from Tel Aviv to Doha operated by Cypriot Tus Airways; Israel warns fans to ‘downplay Israeli identity’

Passengers walk at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, November 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Passengers walk at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, November 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The first direct commercial flight between Israel and Qatar is scheduled to depart Sunday morning with visitors going to watch the FIFA World Cup, despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations between the nations.

The charter flight, operated by Cypriot Tus Airways, is set to take off from Tel Aviv at 10:55 a.m. Sunday.

Last week, a deal was reached allowing Israelis to travel to Qatar for the World Cup despite the lack of ties. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, whose ability to travel depends on Israeli government approval, will also be allowed on the flights, according to the agreement between Israel, FIFA and Qatar.

As part of the agreement, Qatar has permitted Israeli diplomats, through a private travel company, to provide consular support to Israelis during the tournament. The diplomats left for Qatar on Wednesday.

Thousands of Israelis are expected to travel to Qatar despite possible security concerns surrounding visits to the country.

Watar has close ties with the West, but also Iran and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

The unprecedented influx of thousands of Israeli fans descending on Doha for the first World Cup in the Middle East has raised fears of the potential for an embarrassing diplomatic incident between the countries.

A view shows the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on October 29, 2022 ahaead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Vincent Amalvy/AFP)

As a result, Israel has urged its citizens traveling to the World Cup to avoid conspicuously standing out.

Israel’s warning is part of a Foreign Ministry campaign, launched Wednesday, to educate the nation’s soccer fans about laws and customs in the conservative Muslim country.

A campaign website in Hebrew and Arabic outlined the potential minefield awaiting Israeli tourists — who do not have a reputation for being discreet — in a country that criminalizes homosexuality, bans drugs and restricts alcohol consumption.

The official FIFA World Cup Countdown Clock on Doha’s corniche, overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar, October 19, 2022. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

Qatar has a history of support for the Palestinian cause. Further complicating matters, fans and officials from Israel’s enemy Iran will be at the tournament in Qatar.

The campaign has asked Israelis to hide any Israeli symbols — presumably a reference to flags and Stars of David.

“The Iranian team will be in the World Cup and we estimate that tens of thousands fans will follow it, and there will be other fans from Gulf countries that we don’t have diplomatic relationship with,” said Lior Hayat, a senior Israeli diplomat.

“Downplay your Israeli presence and Israeli identity for the sake of your personal security,” Hayat said, addressing the Israeli fans.

Budweiser beer kiosks are pictured at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on November 18, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

When it comes to LGBTQ Israeli fans attending the tournament, the Foreign Ministry website has curt advice: “Not in public.”

The website also warns against public drunkenness, which is illegal in Qatar. 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.

Nearly 4,000 Israeli and 8,000 Palestinian fans have an entry visa to Qatar for the tournament. The Foreign Ministry expects as many as 20,000 Israelis could ultimately attend the World Cup.

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