Qatar Airways CEO slams Gulf blockade

Qatar’s state-owned airline is stepping up the war of words over attempts by its neighbors to isolate the Gulf state.

Qatar Airways has firmed up an order for 20 Boeing 737 MAX jets and is awaiting the outcome of possible expansion in Italy and India before deciding whether to exercise further options, the carrier’s CEO said on Monday. “They have to lift the blockade to start negotiations”, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Aal Thani was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other countries have cut ties with Qatar over accusations the emirate supports extremism. The measures have left Qatar Air excluded from 18 regional destinations and forced some long-haul flights to detour via Iran and Oman.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain broke off relations with Qatar two weeks ago and have closed land and sea borders and imposed severe restrictions on airspace.

Since then, the travel restrictions appear to have been eased slightly.

In the next few days, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt will submit a list of demands to Qatar, which is likely to include the expulsion of radical individuals.

“I am sure that the Department of Transport and Homeland Security will revisit this”, Akbar al Baker told journalists at the Paris Airshow on Monday.

“We don’t take our action from what is now USA or Israeli government position”, Eckstein told the Forward in an interview. During the fiscal year 2017, the airline continued to build its global network, adding 10 new destinations: Adelaide, Australia; Atlanta, United States; Auckland, New Zealand; Helsinki, Finland; Krabi, Thailand; Marrakech, Morocco; Pisa, Italy; Mahé, Seychelles; Windhoek, Namibia; and Yerevan, Armenia.

Turkeyset up a military base in Qatar, its first such installation in the Middle East, as part of an agreement signed in 2014.

Media across much of the Gulf has been critical of Qatar over the past month, carrying articles alleging it has conspired with dissidents to destabilize neighboring governments. “It’s a right for all of us to go where we need to go”, the male voice says over scenic views and joyful family moments. They have accused Qatar of backing terror groups, charges denied by Qatar, which says the allegations are politically motivated.

“It is clear that the actions of the blockading nations have little to do with addressing legitimate grievances and everything to do with attacking Qatar’s image and reputation”, he said.

– Jon Ostrower contributed reporting.