Oman Air apologizes for maps using 'Persian Gulf' label

September 25, 2016 4:46 AM EDT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - State carrier Oman Air has apologized for inflight maps that labeled the Gulf - the waterway separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula - as the "Persian Gulf," in a sign of the strains between Gulf Arab countries and regional rival Iran.

The Sultanate of Oman has sought to maintain neutrality in the struggle for influence between the Shi'ite Muslim Islamic Republic and Sunni Saudi Arabia, which support opposing sides in civil wars throughout the region.

But the naming of the strategic oil export artery is a perennial bone of contention between Iran and its Arab neighbors, as Arab countries have for decades called it the "Arabian Gulf."

Foreign language descriptions can offend either party if they use one name or the other, or sometimes if they avoid an adjective altogether.

Gulf Arab social media users criticized Oman Air and demanded the label be changed, prompting the airline to temporarily disable the map on its seatback screens.

"Given that you are an Omani airline and an Arab one, I wish you would take immediate measures to correct the label of the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Gulf which is proven in our history," tweeted Hamad Midfa.

In an official statement released on Saturday, Oman Air described the map as a mistake, noting the planes had been leased from Kenya Airways. The Omani airline has asked Panasonic, which maintains its inflight entertainment systems, to change the map software without delay, Oman Air said, and "crew have been notified to disable the disturbing maps."

The Gulf is home to the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet, and Iran and the United Arab Emirates are embroiled in a territorial dispute over the sovereignty of three islands in the waterway.

(Reporting by Hadeel Al Sayegh, Editing by Noah Browning, William Maclean and Mark Potter)

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