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Al Jazeera English

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In a possible sign of thawing relations, Saudi Arabia is reopening its land border with Qatar so that pilgrims can cross over to perform Hajj.

The decision comes by order of King Salman, after his son Crown Prince Mohammed met with an envoy from Doha yesterday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

The meeting, in which officials expressed “brotherly feelings,” marked one of the first times Saudi and Qatari authorities have spoken since the dispute began in June.

arwcheek / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

That’s when Saudi, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut economic and political ties with Qatar and closed their borders to its nationals, citing political reasons.

Free flights

According to SPA, the King has also instructed Qatari pilgrims be flown to Jeddah via private jets at his expense.

The Hajj announcement comes as the Gulf dispute enters its third month, and after Saudi Arabia drew international criticism for politicizing the pilgrimage.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Pilgrims at Mt. Arafah during Hajj

Officials had previously said Qatar residents were welcome to perform the Hajj, but they couldn’t use Qatar Airways to fly into Saudi Arabia.

This year, Hajj starts at the end of August.

A Muslim is required to perform the pilgrimage at least once in their lives.

Thoughts?

Video still

Al Arabiya video still

Many people online are expressing shock and outrage at a new video from Saudi-owned Al Arabiya called “Understanding the Qatar Airways ban.”

The illustrative video, which explains what rights a country has if its airspace is breached, shows a missile being shot at an aircraft in the sky.

Some said the piece is in poor taste given the ongoing Gulf dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE.

All four countries have closed their airspace to Qatar since June.

What the video shows

According to the video, countries whose airspace is trespassed upon have two main choices. The first is to dispatch a fighter plane to force the commercial aircraft to land.

“After which, its members may be prosecuted for several crimes, such as breaching national security and exposing civilians to danger,” the video said, depicting a plane with Qatar Airways’ logo on it as an example.

The second option is to “bring down any plane entering its atmosphere which is identified as an enemy target, especially in military bases, where Air Defense is unrestrained,” the video said.

In this example, a plane without a logo is shown, with a missile heading toward it.

Reaction

On Twitter, many people seemed taken aback by the video, and condemned it for suggesting violence against civilian passengers.

However, others said that the piece was taken out of context and that missile shown in the video was a warning shot.

So far, the boycotting countries have said they do not want to escalate the dispute into a military conflict.

And though rhetoric on both sides remains sharp, there is no evidence to suggest the crisis will go that far.

New corridors

The video also mentions recently opened emergency corridors to Qatar Airways planes.

They were introduced following instructions from the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Boeing

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The video explains that these corridors do not actually pass over the UAE, Bahrain or Egypt, but instead over international airspace and waters.

However, it also stressed they can only be used if passengers are in distress or other urgent cases.

Thoughts?

ICAO/Facebook

International Civil Aviation Organization headquarters

A UN aviation body that told Gulf states to reopen their airspace to Qatar will not continue to press the issue, it said.

Backing away from a complaint lodged by Qatar over closed-off airspace, the International Civil Aviation Organization said “political issues” should “be tackled in international forums away from the ICAO.”

According to Gulf media, the ICAO released the statement this week, after the UAE and Bahrain opened a new air corridor to Qatar Airways.

The national carrier has been taking circuitous routes out of the GCC for the past two months after boycotting nations closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft.

Boeing

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The ICAO reportedly said:

“After taking note of the Qatari complaint, the reply from the four counter-terrorism nations and hearing from the ICAO’s general secretariat about the flow of air traffic over international waters the ICAO Council acknowledged that political outstanding issues between these concerned states should be tackled in international forums away from the ICAO.”

The announcement essentially means that the ICAO is satisfied with the new corridor introduced to Qatar. There are also plans to offer some emergency routes.

But local officials including Qatar Airways’ CEO have criticized the corridor as “very short.” So far, the airline doesn’t even appear to even be using it.

And speaking earlier this week, Akbar Al Baker urged the ICAO “to demand from these countries the unconditional opening of the airspace.”

No changes

Meanwhile, officials from the boycotting countries have hailed the ICAO for maintaining its “neutrality.”

They added that the airspace closures will remain largely in place for the time being for security reasons.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

This is despite the fact that Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE are signatories of an international agreement that prohibits them from closing their airspace to Qatar.

Saudi Arabia however, which is leading the blockade against Qatar, is not a signatory and thus does not need to abide by its tenets.

Thoughts?