Airspace ban on Qatari flights to protect citizens: Riyadh

A Qatar Airways plane lands at Hamad International Airport in Doha. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2017

Airspace ban on Qatari flights to protect citizens: Riyadh

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority said on Tuesday that the closure of its airspace to flights from Qatar was within the Kingdom’s sovereign right to protect its citizens from any threat.
The agency was commenting in reaction to remarks made by Qatar Airways’ chief executive that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain were violating international law by shutting out Qatari flights.
The airspace closure was to protect the country and its citizens from anything it sees as a threat and as a precautionary measure, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
Similar statements were also issued by the UAE and Bahraini aviation authorities after Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al-Baker criticized the three Arab countries for the airspace closure in an interview with CNN.
The UAE and Qatar have long been major proponents of open-skies air transport agreements, which remove restrictions on flying between states.
These policies helped the region’s largest airlines — Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways — to develop their home airports as hubs linking passengers traveling between the east and west.
In all 18 destinations in the region are now out of bounds for Qatar Airways, which has also been forced to close its offices in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Qatar Airways will now use the aircraft that had been operated on those 18 destinations to fast track its expansion plans, Al-Baker later told Al Jazeera in an interview.
Al-Baker, warning that the blocking of airspace would also hurt competitors by undermining confidence in the region’s “air connectivity,” did not say which markets it would expand to.
The UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority said it was fully committed to the Chicago Convention, but reserved the sovereign right under international law to take any precautionary measures to protect its national security if necessary, UAE state news agency WAM said.
Meanwhile, the UAE civil aviation authority said the air embargo imposed on Qatar only applies to airlines from Qatar or registered there.
The embargo bans “all Qatari aviation companies and aircraft registered in the state of Qatar” from landing or transiting through the airspace of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, according to the statements published by the national agencies of the three countries.
The ban does not apply to aviation companies and aircraft not registered in Qatar and the three neighboring countries, and which wish to cross their airspace to and from Qatar, they said.
An exception is made for private planes and charter flights to or from Qatar, which require permission to transit through the airspace of the three countries, the statements said.
A permission request must be submitted 24 hours in advance and include a list of the names and nationalities of both crew and passengers, as well as the nature of cargo on board.


Syrian forces consolidate control of Aleppo, air strikes under way

Updated 29 min 5 sec ago

Syrian forces consolidate control of Aleppo, air strikes under way

  • The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing toward the border with Turkey
  • Government forces have been fighting since the start of the year to recapture the Aleppo countryside

BEIRUT: The Syrian army said on Monday it had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside and it would press on with its campaign to wipe out militant groups “wherever they are found.”
The advances were made after President Bashar Assad’s forces drove insurgents from the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, reopening the fastest route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years in a big strategic gain for Assad.
Backed by heavy Russian air strikes, the government forces have been fighting since the start of the year to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighboring Idlib province where anti-Assad insurgents hold their last strongholds.
Government air strikes on Monday hit Darat Izza, near the Turkish border about 30 kilometers north of Aleppo city, wounding several civilians and forcing two hospitals to close, according to hospital staff.
Witnesses also reported air strikes in southern areas of Idlib province.
The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing toward the border with Turkey in the biggest single displacement of the nine-year-old war.
It has also upset the fragile cooperation between Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing factions in the conflict.
Turkey and Russia began a new round of talks in Moscow on Monday after several demands by Ankara that Assad’s forces should back down and a cease-fire be put in place.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that militant attacks on Russian bases and Syrian positions have continued and “it is not possible to leave this unanswered.”
“Troops from Russia and Turkey on the ground in Syria, in Idlib, are in constant contact with each other, looking at changes in the conditions. They have a full understanding of each other,” said Lavrov.
However, the Syrian armed forces said in a statement they would push on with what they called their “sacred and noble task to rid what remains of terrorist organizations wherever on Syria’s geography they are found.”
They had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside, they said.
Syrian transport minister Ali Hammoud announced on Monday the re-opening of Aleppo’s international airport with the first flight, from Damascus to Aleppo, scheduled for Wednesday and flights to Cairo to be announced within days, state news agency SANA reported.
Pro-Damascus Al-Watan newspaper said the M5 highway, a vital artery in northern Syria, would be ready for civilian use by the end of the week. Aleppo city, once Syria’s economic hub, was the scene of some of the most vicious fighting of the war between 2012 and 2016.
The Syrian army had also opened the international roadway from northern Aleppo to the towns of Zahraa and Nubl toward the Turkish border, a military news service run by Lebanon’s Assad-allied pro-Damascus Hezbollah group said.
The insurgent forces arrayed against Assad include Western-backed rebels and jihadist militants.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his military will drive back Syrian forces if they do not withdraw from Idlib by the end of the month. On Saturday, he appeared to move that date forward, saying Turkey would “handle it” before the end of the month if there was no pull-back.
Alarmed by the new refugee crisis on its border, Turkey has sent thousands of troops and hundreds of convoys of military equipment to reinforce its observation posts in Idlib, established under a 2018 de-escalation agreement with Russia.