There has been a confusion over whether Qatari fighter jets were deployed to intercept two passenger planes operated by the UAE in quick succession. With airlines being tight-lipped about the allegations, the issue has now hit international platforms to debate what exactly happened.
The tiny Sunni kingdom of UAE, one of the states which rallied behind Saudi Arabia launching a Gulf blockade against Qatar in 2017, had said Qatari air force dispatched fighters twice to intercept civilian aircraft. The UAE's state-run news agency WAM first reported the alleged event on Monday (15 January).
Those commercial aircraft were en route to Bahrain when the alleged interception took place. The UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority called the interception as "a flagrant and serious threat to the safety of civil aviation and a clear violation of international laws and conventions".
While one of the two aircraft is thought to belong to the Emirati airlines, it is still unclear who operated the other passenger flight.
"Bahraini radars have tracked the Qatari military planes while intercepting the Emirati civilian aircraft," WAM quoted civil aviation director Saif al-Suwaidi as saying. "The incident could also be seen by the naked eye by both the crew and passengers, which constitutes a clear threat to the lives of innocent civilians."
Bahrain, another regional rival of Qatar, has also issued a statement saying the "hostile behaviour by Qatar against civil aircraft has become frequent in recent times" and "poses a threat to the lives of civilians". Some countries in the region have also rerouted their flights to avoid travelling in others' airspace.
According to the Associated Press, the US Central Command, which maintains an air base in Qatar, has not yet reported any such event of interception, with Qatar denying the entire episode calling it "completely false".
The UAE's allegations come within days of Qatar's accusation that Emirati military jets have breached its airspace — an accusation that has been challenged as well.
Meanwhile, the UAE is expected to register a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organisation about the latest incident. "Today we will file our complaint to the International Civil Aviation Organisation about the two serious incidents, along with the evidence that we've gathered, and ask for the intervention of the council to stop Qatar from repeating the act," Saif al-Suwaidi, head of the general civil aviation authority, told AFP news agency on Tuesday (16 January).