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Saudi breaks its own blockade on Qatar as team lands in Doha for Gulf Cup

The Saudi fteam flew directly from the kingdom [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 November, 2019

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While the UAE stuck to the blockade, the Saudi national team flew directly from the kingdom to Doha.

Saudi and the UAE national football teams landed in Doha on Monday, just a day ahead of the opening ceremony for the 24th edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup in Qatar.

The Saudi team flew using the kingdom's national carrier Saudi Arabian airlines directly from the neighbouring kingdom to Qatar, in effect breaking its own two-year air, land and sea blockade on Doha.

The UAE team flew via Kuwait, a route which has been taken by Qatari nationals and residents since 2017, after Qatari airlines were barred from flying through Saudi or UAE airspace.

They are also forced to transit via Oman or Kuwait before landing in blockading states.

Videos posted by the local newspaper Peninsula Qatar showed the 23-man Saudi team receive an official reception at Hamad International Airport before transferring to their residence in a coach branded in the kingdom's green colours. 

The UAE received a similar welcome for its team on Monday early afternoon, just hours after the arrival of the Saudi team on Sunday night.

"Welcome all, via sea and land, Qatar welcomes you," lyrics of an official song for the tournament chanted in the background of videos showcasing the reception of the teams.

The arrivals come less than a week after the kingdom and its Emirati and Bahraini allies confirmed they would attend the tournament in Qatar despite the trio imposing a blockade on Qatar.

Confirmation of the the three team's attendance will bring the total number of teams participating in the tournament to eight.

The teams will join Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen in Qatar from 26 November to 8 December.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain imposed a sea, land and air blockade of Qatar in June 2017 accusing it of having ties radical groups, allegations which Doha has repeatedly denied.

Writer Jaber al-Harami told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that there are real signs at the moment there could be a breakthrough, with sports as a vehicle to resolving the crisis.

Harami sees a way out of the current deadlock by the next Gulf summit, scheduled to be held in the UAE in December, but believes the first step must be to re-open the borders with Qatar and lift the siege on the emirate.

Academic and former advisor to the UAE's crown prince Abdulkhaleq Abdulla tweeted: "I can share with you that there have been important developments in resolving the Gulf dispute sooner than expected," without specifying further details.

If Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain fans take direct flights from their home countries to Doha - replicating the route of the Saudi team  - then this will effectively break the blockade.

When asked about this, Harami said: "Sports fans may be the key to opening the borders and ending the siege."

Earlier this month, Qatar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said after a meeting with the US Secretary of State in Washington, that the meeting touched on the Gulf dispute and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) comprising Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

He added that Kuwait's mediation efforts in the Gulf crisis are still ongoing and that Kuwaiti officials had recently visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Last month, the emir of Kuwait told MPs that the 30-month dispute between Qatar and Gulf countries is no longer acceptable and must be resolved.

Sheikh Sabah, who has been acting as a mediator to resolve the dispute, said the "row has weakened our capabilities and threatened our achievements", calling for a negotiated solution.

Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup is suspected of sparking bitter envy among Gulf rivals, with some analysts believing that the Saudi-blockade was in part designed to disrupt preparations for the prestigious global tournament.

Qatar delivered a humiliating blow to Abu Dhabi after winning the tournament in the UAE following a remarkable record-breaking run that saw the team concede just one goal.

Read more: GCC – A glimmer of hope or condemned to history?

Not a single senior UAE official was present medals to the victorious Qatar football team in the closing ceremony of the Asian Cup 2019 .

The 2017 Arabian Gulf Cup was due to be held in Qatar but was moved to Kuwait in the aftermath of the blockade.

Shortly after the blockade was imposed, Saudi Arabia gave Kuwait a list of 13 demands to pass on to Doha, which included shuttering media outlers such as Al Jazeera and The New Arab.

Qatar rejected these, saying that they violated its sovereignty and aimed to impose hegemony on it. The blockade has been largely ineffective.

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