Swaraj holds talks with Palestinian counterpart

Swaraj holds talks with Palestinian counterpart
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today held talks with her Palestinian counterpart as she began her first visit to the West Asia region with meetings here aimed at reaffirming India's longstanding commitment to the Palestinian cause.

Swaraj was welcomed by Palestine's Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Asia Ambassador Mazen Shamiyeh at the Bituniya Checkpoint as she crossed over from Israel to the Palestinian territory.

Soon after her arrival here, Swaraj held talks with her counterpart Riyad al-Maliki. She also paid a floral tribute at Mahatma Gandhi's bust here.

Appreciating India's help in wide-ranging areas of cooperation, the Palestinian side expressed "satisfaction" at India's continued support for the Palestinian cause.

"The Indian minister emphasised that India's stand on the Palestinian issue hasn't changed and our minister expressed satisfaction at the strengthening ties between the two sides," Dr Wael al-Battrekhi, Palestinian foreign ministry's head of media department, told PTI.

Palestinians had expressed surprise at India's vote at a UN forum last year but had later said that they "understood" India's "principled position".

India, for the first time, last year abstained from voting on a resolution on Palestine adopted at the UN rights body that calls for accountability by parties involved in 2014's conflict in Gaza. India, however, maintained that there was no change in its longstanding position on support to the Palestinian cause.

"No such issue was however raised in the meeting of the foreign ministers," Battrekhi said. Al-Maliki also expressed gratitude for India's consistent efforts to boost capacity building process in Palestine.

India has been offering several scholarships every year to Palestinian youngsters, started a girls secondary school in the West Bank and Swaraj later in the day is scheduled to inaugurate the India-Palestine Digital Learning and Innovation Centre to equip the youth here with technical knowhow.

Swaraj's visit comes three months after President Pranab Mukherjee's historic trip to the region, the first by an Indian Head of State to the region.

Earlier, Swaraj was given a red carpet welcome on her arrival at the airport in Tel Aviv last evening by Israeli officials.

She will call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later in the day. The Minister will also lay a wreath at the mausoleum of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

After her engagements in Palestine, Swaraj will head back to Israel for her two-day visit there during which she will hold discussions with the top Israeli leadership to review a whole range of areas of cooperation between the two countries.

She will call on Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also retains the portfolio of foreign minister, and meet Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Minister of Infrastructure Yuval Steinitz and deputy Foreign Minister Tsipi Hotovely.

Many in Israel see Swaraj's visit as a "build up" to a much-anticipated visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the region.

Netanyahu and Rivlin are also expected to visit India after having received invitations from Mukherjee in October during his visit.
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