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Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued his outreach to leaders in West Asia on Thursday by speaking to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and conveying his condolences at the loss of civilian lives at al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Modi had earlier spoken to his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We will continue to send humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people. Shared our deep concern at the terrorism, violence and deteriorating security situation in the region. Reiterated India’s long-standing principled position on the Israel-Palestine issue,” Modi posted on X after his conversation with Abbas.
Meanwhile, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on Thursday called for strict observance of international humanitarian law in the context of the Israel-Hamas conflict even as it expressed concern over civilian casualties following the blast at a hospital in Gaza that killed hundreds of people.
At the same time, India reiterated its position that the world community must stand together in combating all forms of terrorism in the aftermath of the “horrific terrorist attack” by Hamas on Israel.
During a regular media briefing, Bagchi said India has strongly condemned the “horrific terrorist attack on Israel” and that the international community must stand together in combating terrorism in all forms and manifestations. “There can be no equivocation on this,” he said.
He added: “We would urge the strict observance of international humanitarian law.” In this context, he recalled Modi’s post on social media to convey condolences to the families of victims of the blast at the Gaza hospital on Tuesday. He also reiterated Modi’s remarks that civilian casualties are a “matter of serious and continuing concern” and “those involved should be held responsible.”
Israel and Hamas have traded charges on the explosion at the hospital, run by the Anglican church, which is believed to have killed up to 500 people. Palestinian authorities blamed an Israeli airstrike for the explosion at the hospital, while Israel said it was caused by a misfired rocket launched from Gaza by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Bagchi reiterated India’s concerns at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and emphasised that New Delhi favours direct negotiations for establishing a two-state solution.
Giving details about the humanitarian aid provided by India, Bagchi said the country has been supporting Palestine and Palestinian refugees through significant contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). India has contributed a total of $29.53 million to the agency between 2002 and 2023.
India’s annual contribution to UNRWA increased from $1.25 million to $5 million in 2018, and India has pledged this annual amount for the next two years, he said.
After India initially denounced the Hamas assault as “terrorist attacks” and told Israeli that the country stands in solidarity with it, New Delhi has sought to balance its position in the wake of growing outrage across the Arab world over the mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians.
The latest conflict was triggered by the multi-pronged attacks on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza on October 7. Israel then launched a massive offensive in Gaza to avenge the attacks. About 1,400 Israelis and nearly 3,500 Palestinians have died in the violence so far. Around 200 Israelis were taken hostage by Hamas.
A total of 1,200 people, including 18 Nepalese citizens, have been brought back to India by five flights operated under Operation Ajay, the mission launched by New Delhi to facilitate the return of citizens wishing to return from Israel.
“We are monitoring the situation and will plan more flights according to the need,” he said. About 18,000 Indian nationals, including some 900 students, were in Israel when the conflict began.
About four Indian citizens are believed to be Gaza, which is “difficult to leave”, while about 13 more are in the West Bank. An Indian national who was injured has received medical care and her condition is now stable, Bagchi said. India has not issued any advisory so far for Lebanon, he added.
Rezaul H Laskar is the Foreign Affairs Editor at Hindustan Times. His interests include movies and music.
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