Qatari activists criticize own government over Tel Aviv-Doha World Cup flights

Qatari activists have started a campaign protesting the Israel-Qatar agreement that will allow direct flights between Tel Aviv and Doha during the World Cup.

 A view of the World Cup Trophy during an event marking "200 Days To Go" ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, in Doha, Qatar May 6, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/IMAD CREIDI)
A view of the World Cup Trophy during an event marking "200 Days To Go" ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, in Doha, Qatar May 6, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IMAD CREIDI)

A group of Qatari activists campaigning against normalizing ties with Israel have said they are shocked that their government has authorized direct flights between Tel Aviv and Doha during the soccer World Cup.

The protest - by Qatar Youth Against Normalization, a vocal group of 24 members, mostly Qataris - was small but notable in a state where citizens very rarely speak out against authorities.

"It has come as a shock to us that days leading to the World Cup, Qatar has entered new territories of normalization with the announcement that direct flights will now operate between apartheid Israel and Doha," the group said late on Thursday.

There was no immediate response to requests for comment sent to Qatar's government communications office, World Cup organizers the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy or FIFA, soccer's world governing body.

FIFA said on Thursday it brokered the deal between Qatar and Israel, which do not hold formal diplomatic ties, to facilitate the attendance of eligible Israeli and Palestinian fans at the World Cup, which runs from November 20 to December 18.

 Fifa World Cup 2022 branding is seen at Hamad International Airport. (credit: REUTERS/HAMAD I MOHAMMED) Fifa World Cup 2022 branding is seen at Hamad International Airport. (credit: REUTERS/HAMAD I MOHAMMED)

A Qatari official told Reuters on Thursday the agreement on flights did not change his country's stance on Israel.

While Qatar's Gulf neighbors the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged ties with Israel under US-brokered pacts in 2020, Qatar has said normalization with Israel is linked to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Why did Qatar agree to let Israelis in?

The agreement on flights "is part of Qatar's commitment to FIFA's hosting requirements and it should not be politicized," the official said.

Palestinians, including those living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, will be able to board Doha-bound flights at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, the Qatari official said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken late on Thursday called the flight agreement "a historic development and an important step that also holds great promise to bolster people-to-people ties and economic relations."