Qatar-Saudi border re-opens after thaw

ABU SAMRAH, QATAR (AFP) – Qatar and Saudi Arabia re-opened their land border Saturday, AFP correspondents saw, as they restore ties following a landmark deal to end a three and a half year rift.

Saudi shut its side of Qatar’s only land border in June 2017 as part of a package of sanctions it said was a response to Doha’s backing radical extremist groups and closeness to Iran.

Qatar always denied the charges.

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) , Bahrain and Egypt, all of which also imposed an embargo on travel and trade, agreed to lift the restrictions at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the kingdom on Tuesday.

The day before the summit, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah had announced on state television that a deal had been agreed to “open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar”.

Only a trickle of cars arrived at the palm tree-lined, whitewashed border post to make the short crossing to the Saudi side after news broke that the frontier had re-opened.

A smaller number made the journey from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, where strict measures to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus have been imposed.

“I’m very happy the border is open again,” said Qatari Jaber al-Marri, as he approached a checkpoint in his Land Cruiser SUV, adding that he had relatives in the neighbouring kingdom.

“A lot of Qataris have relatives in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“The coming days will be better,” added the man, holding a negative coronavirus test result in his hand.

Qatar has announced strict coronavirus control measures for those arriving from the Saudi side. Doha will require travellers to present a negative test result, undergo a fresh test at the frontier and quarantine for one week.

A helicopter belonging to the Qatari health service shuttled supplies between Doha and the border, an AFP correspondent reported.

Qatari Hamad al-Marri, who also drove a Land Cruiser, said he was excited to go hunting with falcons in Saudi Arabia, a popular Persian Gulf pastime.

“I will take a fortnight holiday there,” he said. “I will go hunting and visit my friends, whom we have not seen for more than three-and-a-half years.”