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UAE accuses Qatar of 'intercepting' two passenger planes

[ABU DHABI] The United Arab Emirates accused neighbouring Qatar of "intercepting" two Emirati passenger planes en route to Bahrain on Monday in the latest incident between the Gulf rivals.

Qatar denied the allegations as "totally baseless" and hit back that they came "one day after a C-130 UAE military aircraft breached Qatari airspace".

Tensions have escalated in the Gulf since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting Islamist extremists and being too close to Saudi Arabia's arch-rival, Iran.

They have banned all flights to and from Doha and cut off most trade links.

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Qatar denies the allegations, arguing the bloc aims to incite regime change in Doha.

The UAE Civil Aviation Authority said it "received a message from a national carrier on Monday morning that an aircraft on a routine flight to Manama was intercepted by Qatari fighter jets".

The authority said it was "a flagrant and serious threat to the safety of civil aviation and a clear violation of international law".

"This is a routine flight that has all the required paperwork," it said in a statement to the state news agency.

The UAE authority later said a second Emirati passenger plane bound for Bahrain was also intercepted by Qatari fighter jets.

It said the second plane was intercepted "during its descent towards Bahrain International Airport", adding that it was also on a routine pre-scheduled flight.

The foreign ministry in Bahrain denounced the "unacceptable aggressive attitude" of Qatar.

Four UAE-based airlines - Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia - operate flights to Bahrain.

Spokespersons for the airlines contacted by AFP could not immediately confirm or deny the news.

Monday's tit-for-tat accusations came after Qatar accused UAE fighter jets of violating its airspace in December and January.

Lolwa al-Khater, spokeswoman for Qatar's foreign ministry, said Doha "intends to take legal action" over the latest alleged violation Sunday of its airspace.

"It appears that the UAE Civil Aviation Authority is trying, through false allegations, to overshadow the news of a UAE military aircraft breaching Qatari airspace," a statement said.

Qatar is located in the Gulf, between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and across the Gulf waters from Iran.

As the latest tensions flared on Monday US President Donald Trump talked to Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani by phone "to discuss ways to strengthen United States-Qatar bilateral relations on security and economic issues," the White House said.

"The leaders discussed areas in which the United States and Qatar can partner to bring more stability to the region, counter malign Iranian influence, and defeat terrorism," the statement said.

AFP

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