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Qatar offensive: From a war of words to a showdown in the skies

UAE’s civil aviation sector and passengers travelling to Bahrain got a scare when according to multiple reports, 2 commercial flights into Bahrain got intercepted by Qatari jets in mid-air, Monday January 15, 2018.

The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported this incident citing the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

“The GCAA received a message from one of the UAE’s national carriers on Monday morning that one of its aircraft on a flight to Manama on a normal route had been intercepted by Qatari fighters,” the report said.

“The flight was a regular, scheduled service on a known flight-path that met all the required and internationally recognized approvals and permits.”

Later reports from Bahrain indicated that 2 not 1 commercial aircraft were involved and Bloomberg indicated they belonged to Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry also issued a statement saying it “strongly condemns” Qatar over the encounter.
The leader of Qatar’s opposition Sheikh Sultan Bin Suhaim Al-Thani tweeted his condemnation of the interception of two UAE passenger planes.

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Qatar pays price of escalation

Qatari stocks, on the verge of a bull market, suffered a blow as concern grew that a feud with its Gulf neighbors is escalating, reported Bloomberg today.

“The benchmark QE Index on Monday was fewer than 5 points away from completing a 20 percent gain since a November low, before slumping as the UAE said (Qatari) fighter jets intercepted one of its commercial planes,” said Bloomberg.

Qatar’s stock exchange dropped some 2.5% in trading Monday, one of its biggest jolts since the crisis began.

This incident further escalates the already ongoing feud between a quartet of countries –The UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt – which began in June 5, 2017 when Qatar was accused of supporting and funding terrorism, leading to it being boycotted land, air and sea, by the four countries.

Last December’s GCC summit was abruptly cut short after 1 day of brief talks, after being boycotted by Saudi King Salman, who later announced a new strategic economic and military alliance with the UAE, which some analysts believed it meant the end of the GCC alliance.

Read: GCC summit cut short, Qatar completely cut out

Civil aviation meets military jets

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority said two Emirati airliners, carrying 277 passengers, had encountered the jets from Qatar, which lies between the UAE and Bahrain, while en route to Bahrain, according to a WAM update.

“One of the planes was intercepted at 10:30 a.m., and the second at 11:05 a.m. at between 9,000 and 10,000 feet.”

“Bahraini radars have tracked the Qatari military planes while intercepting the Emirati civilian aircraft,” WAM reported.

“The incident could also be seen by the naked eye by both the crew and passengers, which constitutes a clear threat to the lives of innocent civilians,” WAM quoted GCCA Director General Saif al-Suwaidi as saying.

The UAE condemned the Qatari action as “a serious and renewed breach of international conventions and the safety of civil aircraft traffic”.

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Bahrain’s state news agency BNA said the first flight was from Emirates but gave no details of the second flight.

Bloomberg later quoted Bahrain’s state-run BNA news agency, citing its own civil aviation authority, as saying it identified the two flights as Dubai-based Emirates flight No. EK837, a Boeing 777, and another flown by Abu Dhabi-based Etihad.

“The flight number it offered for Etihad did not correspond with any scheduled flight to Bahrain,” Bloomberg said.

“Qatari military fighter jets came within two miles of the Emirates aircraft, which put the lives of passengers and crew at risk,” Bloomberg reported BNA as saying adding BNA offered few details about the Etihad flight.