DOHA/RIYADH (Reuters) – Khalid al-Qahtani stood in the arrivals hall at Riyadh’s main airport on Monday, waiting to see his sister almost four years after a diplomatic rift with neighbouring Qatar split his family apart.
Other relatives from other families clustered around him waiting for the passengers to get off the first flight from Doha allowed into Saudi Arabia since a U.S-backed deal reopened travel routes.
“My sister has been (in Qatar) for about four years. We communicate on WhatsApp … My feelings – me and every Gulf citizen – are indescribable,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel boycott on Qatar in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism – a charge dismissed by Qatar which said the move was meant to curtail its sovereignty.
As the states argued, relatives and friends separated by the dispute had to fly to a neutral third country to meet.
Then Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister announced a breakthrough in ending the dispute at a summit on Tuesday and the air, land and sea links started to re-open.
“Thank God … thank God,” said grinning schoolboy Khalid al-Harji at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, soon after arriving from Doha and meeting his uncle and cousin.
“Qatar and us, we share many things: politically, economically, socially, geographically. There are relations, blood between us,” said Bandar al-Qahtani waiting to greet his aunt.
(Reporting by Eman Kamel in Doha and Mohamed Benmansour in Riyadh; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Heavens)