U.A.E. Orders Air Force to Avoid Qatar Escalation Amid Gulf Spat

(Bloomberg) -- The United Arab Emirates said it has ordered its air force to avoid an escalation after military and commercial planes were “intercepted” earlier this month by Qatari fighter jets.

“We have orders to avoid military escalation to preserve peace and protect lives,” Helal Saeed Al Qubaisi, an armed forces official, told reporters in Abu Dhabi Tuesday. Military planes have been using alternate routes within Saudi Arabian air space, he said.

The U.A.E.’s federal civil aviation authority is also considering changing the routes taken by the country’s passenger planes flying to Bahrain, according to Ahmed Al Jallaf, assistant director general of Air Navigation Services. Qatari authorities deny the incidents took place.

Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and transport links with gas-rich Qatar in June, accusing it of destabilizing the region by supporting terrorism, a charge it rejects. U.S. and Kuwaiti attempts to mediate have failed to break the deadlock, while claims of confrontations in the skies have raised concerns the crisis among the Gulf nations could deepen.

The U.S. Central Command in Qatar informed the U.A.E. that the Qatari fighter jets alleged to have buzzed airliners operated by Emirates and Etihad as they flew to Bahrain were on a training mission, Al Qubaisi said. The U.A.E. air force also had several previously undisclosed incidents with its Qatari counterpart, he added.

Qatar’s counter accusation that U.A.E. military planes violated its airspace is untrue, he said.

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