Qatar Airways confirmed that Israeli healthcare professionals would be eligible to apply for 100,000 free tickets the airline will be distributing "to say thank you for their heroic work looking after people during the current COVID-19 pandemic."
The giveaway, advertised under the name 'Thank You Heroes,' will take place from May 12 to May 18 on the airline's website, and "healthcare professionals from every country in the world will be eligible," the press release said.
Asked on CNN whether this would apply to countries Qatar considers hostile, CEO Akbar Al Baker told interviewer Richard Quest “there is no difference, no barrier in medical fields.” Israeli frontline health professionals will be able to apply for a quota based on the country's population, like every other state.
Although government-owned Qatar Airways does not fly to or from Israel, citizens travelling from abroad are allowed to transit through its main hub in Doha, according to flight aggregator Skyscanner. Some other airlines in the Gulf do not allow Israelis to board their aircraft.
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Qatar plays a complex role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A major donor to Gaza, its financial support has kept the Strip and its Hamas government afloat despite severe economic woes.
These donations are made via Israeli-controlled border crossings, and supported by the Israeli establishment. Earlier this year, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told an Israeli news channel that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen had visited Qatar to ask the Qatari government "to keep funneling money into Hamas."
The gas-rich country also has strained relations with its neighbors, and is the target of an ongoing Saudi-led embargo by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, mostly over its links with Iran. Although relations have become warmer over the last year, they remain problematic.
Despite its economic partnership with Tehran, some Qatari officials have in recent months made statements that could hint at potential rapprochement with Israel.