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Israel, Qatar agree to operate direct flights for World Cup fans: FIFA

Qatar has agreed to allow special direct flights from Israel that will be open to both Israeli and Palestinian fans for the World Cup, FIFA has announced.

But Friday’s announcement gave few details on how decades of hostility would be overcome so that Palestinians and Israelis can travel on the same charter jets to the first World Cup in an Arab nation.

“Today’s historic announcement provides a platform to improve relations across the Middle East,” said Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, world football’s governing body.

“With this deal, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to fly together and enjoy football together.”

A FIFA statement said the flights would be subject to “Israel’s security requirements and operational capabilities”.

Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the deal without mentioning Palestinian access to the tournament that starts November 20.

A Qatari government official told AFP: “Qatar conveyed to the Israelis that any escalation in Jerusalem, Gaza, or the West Bank during this time will risk the cancellation of the agreement including the direct flights.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the flights a “historic step” that promises “to bolster people-to-people ties”.

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

Under its World Cup hosting deal, Qatar cannot refuse fans from any nation.

Diplomatic sources said it had taken months of “hard bargaining” for FIFA to broker the deal allowing direct flights from Israel’s main Ben Gurion Airport for the event.

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Restricted access

Israel severely restricts access to Ben Gurion for residents of the Palestinian territories.

West Bank Palestinians normally travel through Jordan and it is virtually impossible for Gazans to enter Ben Gurion.

The FIFA statement said flights would be operated “by an airline with existing landing rights in Qatar for the duration of the FIFA World Cup, subject to Israel’s security requirements and operational capabilities”.

All fans on the flights must have a match ticket and Qatar’s special fan pass, the Hayya card, it added, promising more details “in due course”.

The conditions outlined by FIFA would rule out an Israeli airline for the flights. 

Sources close to the talks said Royal Jordanian Airlines and European operator TUI were under consideration.

Consular services for Israelis will be handled by “a designated privately-operated international travel company based in Doha,” said FIFA.

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