India Reminds Israel of Obligation to Observe Laws of War, Reiterates Support for Palestinian State

The MEA nuances India’s stance in the wake of PM Modi's initial response to the terror attack by Hamas on Saturday.

New Delhi: While Israel continues to pound Gaza amidst signs of an imminent invasion, India on Thursday (October 12) noted that there was a “universal obligation” to observe international humanitarian law and its reiterated support for a viable and independent Palestinian state.

The additional nuance on India’s stance was given by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for the first time after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted an initial response to the terror attack by Hamas on Saturday.

More than 1,200 Israelis were killed when Hamas members breached the border with Israel from Gaza last Saturday. In retaliation, Israel air strikes have hit Gaza relentlessly, killing over 1,417 people and rendering 300,000 people homeless.

Prime Minister Modi had also conveyed the message of “solidarity” with Israel in his October 10 phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

The Indian stance had till now seemed like an outlier in the reactions from the international community that expressed overwhelming sympathy for Israel’s suffering, but were also concerned about the scale of counter-attacks and called for the need to exercise maximum restraint.

Two days later, the MEA spokesperson gave an additional context to the Indian position.

To questions on whether Modi had told Netanyahu that this was ‘not an era for war’ and voiced the need for restraint, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi replied, “We do believe that there is a universal obligation to observe international humanitarian law.”

He then added that there was a “global responsibility to fight the menace of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”, which echoed Modi’s remarks.

The ‘not an era for war’ phrase was first mentioned by Prime Minister Modi to Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2022. It was repeatedly highlighted as a sign of India’s high-moral position on the Ukraine war and inserted into multilateral joint statements by Indian diplomats.

Earlier on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden had urged Israel to follow the “rules of war”. The Israeli government had vowed for the complete destruction of Hamas and had cut of all electricity, water, and fuel links to Gaza. It was the first time that the US, which had sent arms to Israel and an aircraft carrier to the region, had asked Israel to exercise restraint.

A day earlier, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had said that while Israel had the “right to defend but it has to be done accordingly with international law, humanitarian law”.

While answering another query, Bagchi said that there was no change in India’s Palestine policy. “Our policy in this regard has been long-standing and consistent. India has always advocated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel.”

India’s position on the Hamas attack became politicised, with the Modi government seen as having forged closer ties with Israel.

The opposition Congress’s statement mentioned the need to stop the violence and referred to the “legitimate aspirations” of the Palestinian people. The ruling Bharatiya Janta Party had accused the Congress of playing “vote bank politics”.

Meanwhile, the first chartered flight with Indian nationals is expected to reach India on Friday morning (October 13), as per MEA.

External affairs minister S. Jaishankar had announced ‘Operation Ajay’ to bring back Indian nationals in Israel on Wednesday night (October 11). He chaired a meeting of MEA officials in Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan on Thursday.

EAM @DrSJaishankar chaired a meeting today to review preparations for #OperationAjay. #TeamMEA stands ready to assist our citizens to return home. pic.twitter.com/zK0iTKFjob

— Arindam Bagchi (@MEAIndia) October 12, 2023

Bagchi said that while the capacity of the chartered flight was 240 passengers, it was not certain if it will return on full capacity.

“We are hoping (to have a full flight). How many people can get into that flight has many parameters,” he said.

While there are around 18,000 Indian nationals in Israel, there are around 16 citizens in West Bank and Gaza.

“There is conflict going on. I would request Indian citizens to follow the advisory. Be cautious,” he said.

Despite a large community, there are no serious reports of injuries among Indians. This is in contrast to reports of deaths of foreign nationals from Thailand and Nepal.