Khalid al-Qahtani stood in the arrivals hall at Riyadh’s main airport yesterday, waiting to see his sister almost four years after a diplomatic rift with Qatar split his family apart.
Other relatives from other families clustered around him waiting for the passengers to get off the first flight from Doha allowed into Saudi Arabia since a US-backed deal reopened travel routes.
“My sister has been (in Qatar) for about four years. We communicate on WhatsApp ... My feelings - me and every Gulf citizen - are indescribable,” he said.
After the Gulf crisis began in mid-2017, relatives and friends separated by the dispute had to fly to a neutral third country to meet.
Yesterday, Qatar-Saudi flights resumed after three and a half years as the neighbours normalise ties under a landmark agreement that ends a rift that started in 2017 and allows families to reunite.
The Al-Ula Declaration was signed during the GCC Summit last week for the restoration of full relations between Qatar and the four nations – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt – that had cut ties in 2017. This includes the reopening of borders and airspace.
“Thank God ... thank God,” said grinning schoolboy Khalid al-Harji at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, soon after arriving from Doha and meeting his uncle and cousin.
“Qatar and us, we share many things: politically, economically, socially, geographically. There are relations, blood between us,” said Bandar al-Qahtani, waiting to greet his aunt.
The first commercial flight between Qatar and Saudi Arabia since 2017 was a Qatar Airways service, QR 1164, which left Doha’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) at 1.45pm local time yesterday and arrived in Riyadh at 3.10pm.
Qatar Airways will also resume flights to Jeddah on Thursday (QR 1188 departing Doha at 6.50pm) and to Dammam on Saturday (QR 1150 departing Doha at 5.10pm).
Saudi Airlines (Saudia) had also announced the resumption of services to Doha from Riyadh and Jeddah. According to information available on the HIA website, Saudi Airlines flight SV540 from Riyadh reached Doha around 6.03pm yesterday.
In Riyadh, families hugged and laughed as they were reunited in the gleaming arrivals hall of King Khalid International Airport where two men waited holding large bunches of flowers which they gave to two women who arrived with a child.
“Thank God, may God save the (Saudi) king, the crown prince and the rulers of all the Gulf. It’s a great feeling,” said one tearful man on being reunited with his nephew in Riyadh.
“I am very happy! Thanks to God we have been reunited again,” said his newly arrived nephew as the family kissed and embraced.
Bahrain and the UAE have also opened their airspace to Qatari aviation under the deal.
Yesterday’s Qatar Airways flight flew straight across Bahrain, according to specialist flight tracker FlightAware.
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