JERUSALEM, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Israel has sent diplomats to help its citizens attend the World Cup in Qatar and plans to start ad hoc direct flights on Sunday as the countries, despite having no formal ties, are still involved in football. The championship found a certain convenience.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 Israelis are expected to attend the month-long tournament in the Gulf emirate, an unprecedented influx after years of accepting only low-profile delegates.
Qatar, which has close ties to Iran, has hosted the leader of the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas.
After normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020, the Israelis say that if Qatar turns away from Tehran, it can follow suit. Doha has ruled out that possibility, saying Israel must first make way for a Palestinian state.
In a sign of détente, a delegation from the Israeli foreign ministry will be allowed to provide consular assistance from the Qatari capital to its citizens traveling to the Olympics.
The delegation’s spokesman, Alon Ravi, said they were already working at a hotel in Doha, where duties included advising Israelis on local laws and avoiding friction with rival fans.
“We are guests here, there are many guests from many countries – including neighboring countries that we may not be used to – and the rules here are ultimately stricter,” he told Israel Army Radio.
While alcohol is allowed at some World Cup venues, a public service announcement from Ravi’s administration advised Israelis to avoid alcohol altogether in conservative Qatar.
“We don’t have all the infrastructure that other countries might have, certainly given that we don’t have diplomatic relations,” Ravi said. “So the (possible) arrest of Israelis here is something that bothers us.”
FIFA announced last week that Qatar would allow non-stop flights from Israel to the World Cup, including Palestinians.
Cyprus-based TUS Airlines, a subsidiary of Israel’s Knafaim Holdings Ltd. (KNFM.TA), said it expected Qatar to give final approval on Thursday to offer twice-weekly direct flights from Tel Aviv to Doha, possibly until last game.
Nimrod Borovitz, chairman of the TUS board of directors, said the first plane would take off Sunday before kickoff, adding that most tickets had already been sold, some with hotel packages.
He did not know how many Palestinians might be among the passengers, telling Reuters: “If they are allowed to fly from Ben Gurion Airport, they can fly with us.”
Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Bradley Perrett and Emelia Sithole-Matarise
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