By Syed Raza Hassan
KARACHI, Pakistan, June 6 (Reuters) – Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is in talks to bring back Pakistani passengers of Qatar Airlines stranded in Doha after Saudi Arabia and four other Arab countries cut off ties with Qatar, an official said on Tuesday.
The Pakistani passengers were supposed to fly to Saudi Arabia via Doha to perform Umrah, a religious ritual, at Mecca.
“There are two options for PIA. Either take them from Doha to Jeddah, and for that we will be needing Saudi government permission. Or the second is to bring them back to Pakistan and take them to Saudi Arabia,” Mashhood Tajwar, spokesman for the national carrier, told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia is leading a clampdown on Qatar, accusing the tiny emirate of supporting pro-Iranian Islamist militants.
Air travel across the Gulf and beyond faces major disruption following Monday’s move by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain to sever ties with Qatar.
Tajwar said the number of stranded Pakistani passengers was not clear because they were customers of Qatar Airways, but PIA was in contact with the Pakistani embassy in Doha to get details.
Saudi Arabia on Monday banned Qatari airlines from its airspace, while Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Etihad Airways and Dubai’s Emirates Airline said they would suspend all flights to and from Doha from Tuesday until further notice.
Qatar is home to global airline Qatar Airways and many airports in the Gulf region are major hubs for international connecting flights. Qatar’s main Hamad International Airport, for example, served about 9.8 million passengers from January to March, according to its website.