An officer gives flowers to a driver at a border crossing of Saudi Arabia with Qatar. Reuters
Qatar and Saudi Arabia reopened their land border on Saturday as they restore ties following a landmark deal at Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia.
A Qatari source told reporters that traffic at the Abu Samrah crossing, 120 kilometres south of Doha, resumed around 0700 GMT on Saturday.
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 reopened.
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.
Saudi Airlines (Saudia) will operate flights from Riyadh and Jeddah to Doha, starting from Monday, the airline said in a tweet on Saturday.
"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 in a government-approved hotel for one week.
A helicopter belonging to the Qatari health service shuttled supplies between Doha and the border.
As it was the weekend, cargo haulage did not appear to have resumed.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has welcomed the signing of the ‘solidarity and stability’ Al Ula agreement that will see Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Egypt open their air, land and sea borders with Qatar.
IATA said the agreement paves the way for commercial airlines to resume regional connectivity which will shorten flight times and provide essential air links to families and businesses across the region.
"The reopening of airspace with Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Egypt is welcome news for the region, passengers and the aviation industry during these very difficult times. It will permit the resumption of direct flights between these countries and Qatar, eliminating complex transit travel itineraries that saw typical journey times increase from under an hour to over five hours in some cases.
"The agreement will facilitate the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines globally given the region’s strategic location," said Muhammad Al Bakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East.
Qatari Hamad Al Marri, who also drove a Land Cruiser, said he was excited to go hunting with falcons in Saudi Arabia, a popular 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."
"I'll be reunited with my family and everybody is happy that we can go to Makkah and Madinah."
"It is a great joy, I bought this new car, a Land Cruiser, in order to go and celebrate with my relatives in Saudi Arabia, and I took the coronavirus test and waited here hoping they would allow us to cross at any moment," said Zaid Muhammad Al Marri, 23, a Qatari whose mother is Saudi, ahead of the border reopening.
The US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has welcomed the progress achieved by the Al Ula Declaration issued at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held yesterday in Saudi Arabia, describing it as "a positive step towards restoring Gulf and Arab unity."
The Republic of Kazakhstan has welcomed the progress achieved by the Al Ula Declaration issued at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, according to Saudi media.
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