TEL AVIV: Balloons festooned the departure gate for the first commercial flight between Israel and Qatar on Sunday, permitted by Doha for World Cup fans despite a lack of formal bilateral relations.

While the excitement was mainly at being able to attend the soccer tournament, for which Israel did not qualify, with such surprising ease several passengers voiced hope that the non-stop flights would clear the way to fuller detente with Qatar.

They were issued contact cards for a discreet Israeli consular delegation sent ahead to provide emergency support, a reminder of their current semi-recognised status in Qatar, which is close to Iran and has hosted leaders of Palestinian Hamas.

“There were a few concerns, I cannot deny that,” said Sagi Ashkevitz, flying with three friends to his second World Cup.

“But in the end, the idea of watching (Lionel) Messi for the last time, together with the idea that we are actually making history, overcame all of the concerns,” Ashkevitz added.

At least 10,000 Israelis are expected at the month-long matches, most of them coming through third countries. Those boarding the TUS Airways plane at Ben Gurion Airport were originally told they would have a brief stopover in Cyprus.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2022

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