UAE: Qatar Jets Intercepted Flights

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The United Arab Emirates on Monday claimed that Qatari fighter jets intercepted two of its commercial airliners in international airspace on the way to Bahrain, allegations denied by Qatar.

The UAE's two major airlines declined to comment.

The claim could further escalate tensions between Qatar and the four Arab nations that have been boycotting it for months, among them the UAE, home to the world's busiest international airport. It follows two complaints by Qatar to the United Nations about Emirati military aircraft allegedly violating its international airspace amid the diplomatic crisis.

The UAE's state-run WAM news agency made the claim on Monday, citing the country's General Civil Aviation Authority.

"The GCAA received a message from one of the UAE's national carriers on Monday morning that one of its aircraft on a flight to Manama on a normal route had been intercepted by Qatari fighters," the report said. "The flight was a regular, scheduled service on a known flight-path that met all the required and internationally recognized approvals and permits."

WAM said later Monday a second flight to Bahrain was similarly "intercepted."

WAM did not identify the aircraft involved, nor did it elaborate on details of the purported encounters. The GCAA did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press.

Saif Al Thani, a Qatari government spokesman, denied the UAE's claim on Twitter, calling it "completely untrue." He promised a detailed statement would come later Monday.

The UAE is home to two major national carriers, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad and Dubai-based Emirates. Both airlines declined to comment when reached by the AP, though Bahrain's Foreign Ministry identified one of the affected aircraft as Emirates flight No. EK837.

That flight left Dubai at 8:20 a.m. Monday and landed 46 minutes later, flying out over international waters near the northern tip of Qatar, a peninsular nation that juts out like a thumb into the Persian Gulf, before arriving in the island nation of Bahrain. That's been the standard route of all Emirati commercial airliners since the crisis began.

FlightRadar24, a popular airplane tracking website, did not show any unusual routes between the UAE and Bahrain. "There appears to be no deviation from standard routing and approach patterns in today's flights," FlightRadar24 spokesman Ian Petchenik told the AP.

Two budget UAE carriers, FlyDubai and Sharjah-based Air Arabia, also operate several direct flights a day to Bahrain International Airport in Manama. Neither immediately responded to requests for comment.

U.S. Air Force Central Command, which is based at the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, did not have any reports of incidents involving commercial aircraft in the region, said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, an Air Force spokesman. However, Pickart cautioned that U.S. forces don't routinely monitor the flights and operations of the Qatari air force.

Qatar's stock exchange dropped some 2.5 percent in trading Monday, one of its biggest jolts since the crisis began.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut off Qatar's land, sea and air routes on June 5 over its alleged support of extremists and close ties with Iran.

Qatar has long denied funding extremists. It recently restored full diplomatic relations with Iran, with which it shares a massive offshore natural gas field that makes the country and its 250,000 citizens extremely wealthy.

The crisis has hurt Qatar Airways, Doha's long-haul carrier that competes with Emirates and Etihad.

Qatar had complained to the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization about the boycotting nations cutting off its air routes, forcing the carrier to take longer flights through Iran and Turkey. Its regional feeder flights in Saudi Arabia and the UAE also have been cut off.

Qatar accused Emirati military jets of violating its air space in December and January in two incidents, filing a complaint to the United Nations.

On Sunday night, an exiled Qatari ruling family member once promoted by Saudi Arabia appeared in an online video, claiming he's being held against his will in the United Arab Emirates, an allegation denied by Abu Dhabi.

The video of Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani, a little-known ruling family member until the Qatar crisis, also offered new fuel to the stalemated dispute. It recalled the bizarre, now-reversed resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while on a trip Riyadh, a Nov. 4 decision that was widely seen as orchestrated by the kingdom.

Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, traveled Monday to Ankara to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish officials said Erdogan and Al Thani would discuss bilateral ties and regional issues. It was not clear if the talks would touch upon the ongoing crisis.

(KA)