Indian president’s peace mission to West Asia ends with call for stability

JERUSALEM (The Statesman/ANN) - Indian President Pranab Mukherjee wraps up his visit of Israel and Palestine amid raging conflict and unrest.

In the shadows of raging unrest and conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee wrapped up his first-ever visit to Palestine and reached here for his first-ever visit to Israel, even as his delegation witnessed the snowballing conflict first-hand before being whisked away safely to Israeli-controlled Jerusalem.

Before leaving for Israel, President Mukherjee asserted that the Palestinian issue was at the centre of Arab-Israeli conflict whose resolution would be essential for peace and stability in the Middle East region and for India's interest.

With continued killings on both sides in a string of violent incidents and clashes involving Palestinian youths, Israeli citizens and Israeli troops for the past several weeks — centred round the conflict over access to and rights over Al-Aqsa Mosque-Temple Mount compound in Old City of the Israel-annexed East Jerusalem - the fresh bout of strife seemed to be making waves everywhere, including the venues of functions attended by Mr Mukherjee.

In an escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, several people from both sides were killed in Jerusalem and other parts of this strife-torn region even today, with Palestinians increasingly resorting to knife attacks and stabbings in their attacks on Israelis and getting shot by them or the Israeli security forces.

Scores of Palestinians and several Israelis have died in this latest upsurge of their conflict since last month. The current spell of violence is understood to have been triggered by Palestinian resentment over rising frequency of Jewish visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The Indian president's delegation - comprising MPs, minister, and top officials among others - also got caught up this afternoon in the whirl of the sizzling trouble in and around Al Quds University at Al Dees in East Jerusalem, where President Mukherjee was conferred an honorary doctorate in philosophy.
At the university, the Indian President was welcomed by some students, but the Indian delegation also later witnessed vociferous protests by hundreds of slogan-shouting students there. They were protesting against the killings of Palestinians allegedly by Israeli security forces today. It was supposed to be the Palestinians' "day of rage". The protesting students even held banners urging the Indian President that New Delhi should not pursue close ties with the "occupier" Tel Aviv which, they charged, were "killing them and their economy".

Mr Mukherjee finished his acceptance speech after receiving the honorary doctorate degree, but had to cut short his scheduled witnessing of exchange of MoUs between the Indian universities and their Palestinian counterparts as he was whisked away from there.

The students' protest began following the President's exit from the scene. His subsequent scheduled programme to inaugurate the Jawaharlal Nehru Secondary School for Boys in the vicinity of the university had to be cancelled in light of the growing unrest there.

Earlier, President Mukherjee also inaugurated the India-Palestine Centre for Excellence in Information Communication Technology (ICT) at the Al Quds University as part of New Delhi's considerable support for enhancing Palestine's capacity in education and information technology. Israel was not allowing 30 computers and some communication systems for this Centre that was sent by India. They were stuck in Israel's port and airport respectively. Tel Aviv finally cleared the consignment of computers but its customs reportedly slapped 15,000 dollars demurrage as penalty. Besides paying this amount for getting the computers cleared and being set up in time for President Mukherjee's inauguration, New Delhi will also have to replace its communication systems in view of the Israeli objections about their "powerful specifications".

Addressing the students and faculty of the Al Quds university, Mr Mukherjee reiterated India's "rich and historic" relationship with Palestine, its solidarity with the Palestinian people and its principled support to the Palestinian cause. He said the "entire Indian political leadership remains steadfastly committed" to New Delhi's traditional, crystallised policy encompassing "solidarity with the Palestunian people, support to the Palestinian cause, and support to Palestine's nation-building and capacity-building efforts".

Tracing the history of India's consistent support to the Palestinian cause since its freedom struggle, Mr Mukherjee said India had voted against the partition of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 and that it was the first non-Arab country to recognise the State of Palestine in 1988. "We spearheaded the campaign for recognition of Palestinian statehood by the UN in 2912. India supported the successful resolution for flying the Palestinian flag at the UN Headquarters last month," he said.

Close on the heels of his arrival at Jerusalem - the seat of Israeli government and Parliament, Knesset - President Mukherjee went to pay his homage to Yad Vashem (World Centre for Holocaust Research) at Mount Herzl. As a special gesture, the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin - at whose invitation President Mukherjee is undertaking this first-ever State visit to Israel as part of the third leg of his three-nation tour - accompanied him there.

Yad Vashem is dedicated to the memory of genocide of six million Jews by the Nazis seven decades ago. In its Hall of Remembrance, President Mukherjee laid a wreath to the memory of the departed souls. In his brief speech later at this venue, President Mukherjee said , "I don't know what to say on this occasion. It is difficult to believe that human beings can treat their fellow human beings in this way. Whatever be the political allegiances or objectives, such wanton destruction of humans and human values could never be erased from the memory of mankind, " adding that such centres continue to remind the world about keeping alive such a memory.


  • India, President, West Asia, Visit


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