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Israel reaches agreement with Qatar to allow direct flights during World Cup

FIFA announces deal between Jerusalem and Doha, which have no official ties; Palestinians can also take the Ben Gurion flights, which will be subject to Israeli security measures

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

A woman walks past a store in a mall in Doha on October 29, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP)
A woman walks past a store in a mall in Doha on October 29, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

Israel has reached an agreement with FIFA and Qatar to allow direct charter flights from Ben Gurion Airport to Qatar for the World Cup, which begins on November 20.

Israel and Qatar do not have diplomatic relations, necessitating the agreement announced Thursday.

The charter flights will be run by a foreign airline and will be subject to Israel’s security measures. There was no immediate word on which airline would fly the route.

The Foreign Ministry will provide consular services through a private international travel company, according to FIFA.

Neither the Shin Bet security agency nor the Israel Football Association responded to requests for comments on security arrangements for Israelis traveling to Qatar.

Noting that the talks had taken months to complete, Prime Minister Yair Lapid thanked the foreign, transportation, and culture and sports ministries, and the National Security Council for their successful efforts.

“We have successfully secured all guarantees, including access to consular services for Israelis during their stay in Qatar,” said Alon Ushpiz, Foreign Ministery Director-General.

“As the first World Cup ever hosted in the Middle East, it promises to be a celebration of soccer and an opportunity for Israelis to build connections and share cultural experiences with people from across our region and the wider world,” he said.

A Qatar Airways plane prepares to take off at San Francisco International Airport during the coronavirus pandemic in San Francisco, December 22, 2020(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Palestinians will also be able to fly out to the tournament.

“With this deal, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy soccer together,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

In the statement released by FIFA, a Qatari spokesperson for the tournament said the Gulf emirate has always been committed to letting “all ticket holders… attend matches in Qatar,” without using the words “Israelis” or “Israel.”

“The announcement today illustrates our commitment to respecting FIFA’s policies and hosting requirements including the right of everyone to attend matches,” the spokesperson said. “This also includes the requirement that Palestinian ticket holders and media are able to travel on these chartered flights with no restrictions as they have an equal right to enjoy the tournament, which is made extra special by it being the first World Cup to be hosted in the Arab and Muslim world.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the move as “a historic development and an important step that also holds great promise to bolster people-to-people ties and economic relations.”

Thousands of Israelis are expected to travel to Qatar for the World Cup, despite possible security concerns surrounding visits to the country, which has close ties with the West, as well as with Iran and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

Though they do not have official ties, Jerusalem engages with Doha to grant permissions for the distribution of Qatari aid in the Gaza Strip, but details on such contacts are rarely publicly confirmed.

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

Israel’s then prime minister Shimon Peres, left, is received by the then Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in Doha, April 2, 1996. (AP Photo/QNA)

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.

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 Israeli 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.

Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.

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