Qatar and Saudi Arabia reopen the border after the Detente Gulf

Qatar and Saudi Arabia reopened their land border on Saturday as they restored their ties following a milestone agreement to end a three-and-a-half-year rift.

Saudi Arabia closed its side of Qatar’s only land border in June 2017 as part of a sanctions package that it said was in response to Doha’s support for radical Islamist groups and proximity to Iran.

Qatar always denied the allegations.

AFP correspondents saw cars drive over on Saturday. A Qatari source said that traffic at the Abu Samrah junction, 120 kilometers south of Doha, had resumed around 0700 GMT.

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which imposed travel and trade embargoes, had agreed to lift restrictions at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the UK on Tuesday.

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

Qatar Airways and Saudi Airlines announced on Saturday on Twitter that they would start resuming flights between their countries from Monday.

Only a handful of cars arrived at the palm-fringed, whitewashed land border post to make the short crossing to Saudi Arabia after news broke that the border had reopened.

A small number made the trip from the country to Qatar, where strict measures have been taken to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

“I am very happy that the border is open again,” said Qatari Jaber al-Marri as he approached a checkpoint in his Land Cruiser SUV, adding that he had loved ones in the neighboring country.

“Many Qataris have relatives in Saudi Arabia,” he said, holding a negative coronavirus test report.

“The coming days will be better.”

‘Reunited with my family’

Qatar has announced strict coronavirus measures for those arriving from Saudi Arabia.

Doha will require travelers to present a negative coronavirus test, undergo a new border check and quarantine at a government-approved hotel for one week.

A helicopter belonging to Qatar’s health service sent deliveries between Doha and the border, an AFP correspondent reported.

Since it was the weekend, freight transport did not seem to have resumed.

Qatari Hamad al-Marri, who also drove a Land Cruiser, said he was excited about falconry in Saudi Arabia, a popular golf resort.

“I’m taking two weeks off there,” he said. “I will hunt and visit my friends, whom we have not seen in more than three and a half years.”

“I will be reunited with my family,” he added. “Everyone is happy that we can go to Mecca and Medina.”

The two Saudi cities are the focal points of Islam, but Qataris had struggled to carry out the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages during the diplomatic split.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia blamed each other for the obstacles.

Several drivers gathered at a gas station near Qatar’s base just hours after the Kuwaiti announcement of a detente between Qatar and its former rivals.

“It’s a great pleasure, I bought this new car, a Land Cruiser, to go and celebrate with my relatives in Saudi Arabia,” said Zaid Muhammad al-Marri, 23, a Qatari with a Saudi mother.