Under embargo Qatar takes delivery of first Rafale jets

Doha (AFP) –


Five Rafale fighter jets arrived in Qatar on Wednesday, a diplomatic source in Doha told AFP, a symbolic delivery as Doha marked two years under a Saudi-led embargo.

Qatar inked a number of major arms deals after Riyadh and its allies the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain announced a total economic boycott of Doha in June 2017.

The alliance severed diplomatic, trade and economic ties over Doha's alleged support for Iran and Islamist movements -- charges Qatar strenuously denies.

"I confirm the arrival of the first five Rafales today at 4:45 pm (1345 GMT). They came directly from France," the source told AFP.

Qatar ordered 24 of the fighters from France in 2015, adding 12 more last year. It also has an option to buy 36 more.

France formally handed the first of the aircraft over to Qatar in a ceremony in Merignac, southwestern France, where the planes are built, in February.

They have remained in France until now as Qatari pilots have been trained on the platform.

Qatar's defence ministry posted a video showcasing the plane's capabilities on its verified Twitter account to coincide with the delivery.

Qatar has separately inked deals with France for 50 Airbus A321 passenger planes, as well as a deal with Britain to buy Typhoon fighters.

The Pentagon has also announced a $12-billion deal with Qatar for the purchase of US-made F-15 fighter jets.

The emirate hosts a major US air base, home to the headquarters of Centcom, the regional command which leads operations against the jihadist Islamic State group.

Doha has previously said its arms purchases are not the concern of Saudi Arabia.

The twin-engine Rafale has been in service with the French air force since 2004.

France has also sold Mirage F1, Alpha Jets and Mirage 2000 fighters to Qatar.

After failing to sell the Rafale abroad for several years, France finally won a contract from Egypt in 2015 for 24 jets, followed by the sale to Qatar.

In September 2016, India also agreed to buy 36 of the fighters.