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Qatar-Saudi border reopens after regional thaw

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt all agreed to lift restrictions on nation after years of embargo

A general view of the Qatari side of the Abu Samrah border crossing with Saudi Arabia, January 5, 2021 (KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)
A general view of the Qatari side of the Abu Samrah border crossing with Saudi Arabia, January 5, 2021 (KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

ABU SAMRAH, Qatar (AFP) — Qatar and Saudi Arabia reopened their land border Saturday, AFP correspondents saw, as they restore ties following a landmark deal to end a three and a half year rift.

Saudi shut its side of Qatar’s only land border in June 2017 as part of a package of sanctions it said was a response to Doha’s backing radical Islamist groups and closeness to Iran.

Qatar always denied the charges.

A Qatari source told AFP that traffic at the Abu Samrah crossing, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Doha, resumed around 0700 GMT.

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which also imposed an embargo on travel and trade, agreed to lift the restrictions at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the kingdom on Tuesday.

The day before the summit, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah had announced on state television that a deal had been agreed to “open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar.”

A car crossing the Qatari side of the Abu Samrah border into Saudi Arabia following the opening of crossings between the two countries, January 9, 2021 (KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

Only a trickle of cars arrived at the palm tree-lined, whitewashed border post to make the short crossing to the Saudi side after news broke that the frontier had reopened.

A smaller number made the journey from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, where strict measures to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus have been imposed.

“I’m very happy the border is open again,” said Qatari Jaber al-Marri, as he approached a checkpoint in his Land Cruiser SUV, adding that he had relatives in the neighboring kingdom.

“A lot of Qataris have relatives in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“The coming days will be better,” added the man, holding a negative coronavirus test result in his hand.

Qatar has announced strict coronavirus control measures for those arriving from the Saudi side. Doha will require travelers to present a negative test result, undergo a fresh test at the frontier and quarantine in a government-approved hotel for one week.

A helicopter belonging to the Qatari health service shuttled supplies between Doha and the border, an AFP correspondent reported.

As it was the weekend, cargo haulage did not appear to have resumed.

Qatari Hamad al-Marri, who also drove a Land Cruiser, said he was excited to go hunting with falcons in Saudi Arabia, a popular Gulf pastime.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, welcomes Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani upon his arrival in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, January 5, 2021. (Saudi Royal Court via AP, File)

“I will take a fortnight holiday there,” he said. “I will go hunting and visit my friends, whom we have not seen for more than three and a half years.

“I’ll be reunited with my family and everybody is happy that we can go to Mecca and Medina.”

The two Saudi cities are focal points of Islam and Qataris had struggled to undertake the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages during the diplomatic rift.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia blamed each other for the hurdles.

Several drivers gathered at a petrol station close to the Qatari exit point just hours after the Kuwaiti announcement of a detente between Qatar and its erstwhile rivals.

“It is a great joy, I bought this new car, a Land Cruiser, in order to go and celebrate with my relatives in Saudi Arabia, and I took the coronavirus test and waited here hoping they would allow us to cross at any moment,” said Zaid Muhammad al-Marri, 23, a Qatari whose mother is Saudi, ahead of the border reopening.

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