The air force of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been instructed “not to escalate” a growing civil aviation row with regional rival Qatar, an Emirati military official says.
“From the beginning of the Qatari provocations, we were given instructions from our superiors not to escalate in this area as part of our commitment to the principle of regional security and peace, and also for the safety of these planes and those on board,” Brigadier General Hilal Sayeed al-Qubaisi told a press conference in capital Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
On January 12, Qatar lodged a complaint with the UN about an alleged violation of its airspace on December 21 by an Emirati military plane. Moreover, Doha, also alleged a day later that a second Emirati warplane had violated Qatari airspace as it was traveling from the UAE to Bahrain on January 3, “without prior authorization.”
The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash at the time flatly denied the accusation relating to the first incident and said Abu Dhabi would send an official response.
On January 15, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) alleged that Qatar has “intercepted” two Emirati passenger aircraft en route to Bahrain earlier in the day, but Doha strongly rejected the accusation. A day later, the GCAA announced that it was set to lodge a complaint with the UN aviation agency over the purported interceptions.
On January 18, the UAE said that it had filed a formal complaint with the UN over Qatar’s purported interceptions of two Bahrain-bound Emirati passenger planes three days earlier.
Abu Dhabi is now looking at re-routing flights to Bahrain to avoid Qatari airspace.
Tensions have escalated in the Persian Gulf region after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE severed their diplomatic relations with Qatar on June 5 last year, accusing Doha of sponsoring “terrorism” and destabilizing the region.
The Saudi-led bloc has also imposed sanctions against Doha, including restrictions on Qatari aircraft using their airspace. Amid the diplomatic crisis, Abu Dhabi has taken an especially tough line toward Doha. To further pressure Qatar, Saudi Arabia has totally closed its land border with its tiny neighbor, through which much of Qatar’s food supply crossed. Doha, however, rejects the claims, saying the boycotters are attacking its sovereignty.
Later in June, the four Arab countries urged Qatar to abide by a 13-point list of demands if it wanted the crippling blockade lifted. The demands included shutting down the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcaster, scaling back cooperation with Iran, closing the Turkish military base in Qatar, and paying an unspecified sum in reparations. Qatar, however, firmly refused to comply, calling the wide-ranging demands “unrealistic, unreasonable and unacceptable.” In return, the four feuding countries vowed to impose further sanctions.
A number of attempts to heal the unprecedented rift have so far turned to be futile, including those by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah, whose country has been playing the role of a key mediator since the beginning of the crisis.