New Delhi: Two days after an explosion at a Gaza hospital killed hundreds, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and reiterated India’s “long-standing” position on the Palestinian cause.
While Modi expressed condolences for the loss of civilian lives and the deteriorating situation, he didn’t make any mention of the need for a stop or for a ceasefire.
After Hamas’s invasion and attacks on October 7 killed over 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, Israel has conducted counter-strikes in Gaza, which has left over 3,000 dead.
On Tuesday night, a catastrophic explosion at Gaza City’s al-Ahli Hospital killed 471 people, as per the Palestinian health ministry. Hamas and the broader Arab world attributed the attack to Israel. Tel Aviv, however, claimed that a faulty rocket misfire by a Palestinian militant group was behind the explosion, a position supported by the United States.
The Indian prime minister had spoken to his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu last week to convey “solidarity”.
After speaking to the Palestinian Authority president on Thursday, Modi wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that he conveyed his condolences at the loss of civilian lives at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza.
“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,” he wrote.
Without ascribing any blame for the attack, Modi had tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that he was “deeply shocked at the tragic loss of lives at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza”.
Expressing condolences to the bereaved, Modi posted, “Civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict are a matter of serious and continuing concern” and stated that those “involved should be held responsible”.
Echoing the prime minister, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday reiterated concern about civilian casualties and adherence to international humanitarian law, but yet again didn’t explicitly call for a ceasefire and an end to violence.
At the weekly briefing, the MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was asked whether India had a position on demands for a ceasefire in West Asia – which has seen an unprecedented level of violence and deaths since October 7.
In reply, he pointed to India having expressed concern over civilian casualties due to the ongoing conflict. “We also remain concerned about the humanitarian situation. We would urge the full respect and strict observance of international humanitarian law,” said Bagchi.
He also noted that India had “strongly condemned the horrific terrorist attack on Israel, and we believe the international community must stand together in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”.
Bagchi also repeated India’s Palestine policy of “advocating the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders, side by side at peace with Israel”.
He also recounted that India has contributed $29.53 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) between 2002 and 2023 towards supporting relief and rehabilitation work in Palestine.
“The Indian annual contribution to UNRWA was increased from $1.25 million to $5 million in 2018. India has pledged annual contribution of $5 million for the next two years,” said Bagchi.
At last week’s briefing, the MEA had similarly sought to expand and balance the Indian position by talking about international humanitarian law, after Modi had twice talked of only solidarity with Israel.
The Indian foreign ministry spokesperson last week said last week that New Delhi believes “that there is a universal obligation to observe international humanitarian law.” He added that there was a “global responsibility to fight the menace of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”.
The MEA had to bring some additional nuance into India’s position as it was not in step with the rest of the Global South, including close Arab allies like the UAE, who condemned the Hamas attack but also called for an end to Israeli airstrikes and raised the demand for an immediate ceasefire.
Congress calls for ceasefire
Meanwhile, Indian National Congress president and opposition leader Mallikarjun Kharge repeated the call “for an immediate cease-fire and for humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered people of Gaza”.
“The indiscriminate bombing on the hospital in Gaza and residential areas resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives of innocent men, women and children is both unjustifiable and a grave humanitarian tragedy for which the perpetrators must be held accountable,” noted Kharge’s statement on Thursday.
“The Indian National Congress repeats its call for an immediate cease-fire and for humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered people of Gaza. It calls upon all sides to abandon the path of senseless violence and war and begin the process of negotiations and diplomacy so that the… pic.twitter.com/dAzv3iS6Bb
— Congress (@INCIndia) October 19, 2023
Congress also called “upon all sides to abandon the path of senseless violence and war and begin the process of negotiations and diplomacy so that the aspirations of the Palestinian people are fulfilled and the security concerns of Israel are also ensured”.
The opposition party had condemned the attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7. But, unlike the Indian government, the Congress also explicitly condemned the attacks by Israeli military forces on civilian areas in Gaza. Notably, the Congress statement didn’t attribute the Gaza hospital strike to anyone.