The flight, carrying 212 Indian passengers, including an infant, took off on Thursday night from the Ben Gurion airport in Israel under ‘Operation Ajay’.
According to reports, the passengers were chosen on a ‘first come first serve’ basis.
On Thursday night, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar shared pictures of the first repatriation of the stranded citizens on X, formerly known as Twitter saying: ‘Operation Ajay gets underway. 212 citizens onboard the flight are enroute New Delhi.’
The government launched ‘Operation Ajay’ on Wednesday to bring back stranded citizens from Israel – which is witnessing fierce fighting with the terrorist group Hamas.
This came after Air India and other airlines suspended all its commercial operations to and from Israel as the war began on October 7.
‘Launching #OperationAjay to facilitate the return from Israel of our citizens who wish to return. Special charter flights and other arrangements being put in place Fully committed to the safety and well-being of our nationals abroad,’ S Jaishankar had announced on X.
Under this operation, special chartered flights will bring back the Indians, and the Indian Navy ships will also be deployed if the need arises.
Notably, there are around 18,000 Indians in Israel including students, professionals, and traders.
India is facilitating citizens who wish to come home following the eruption of violence in Gaza, since the Hamas attacks in Israel last weekend.
Nearly 30 people including Rajya Sabha member Wanweiroy Kharlukhi on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem crossed over to Egypt after violence erupted.
India launched the operation on Wednesday, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar announcing that the government will assist citizens who wish to return from Israel.
Special charter flights and other arrangements were being put in place for this, he posted on X.
The Indian embassy in Israel, in another post on X, said it had informed the first batch of Indian citizens who had registered to return about the special flight being operated on Thursday.
‘Messages to other registered people will follow for subsequent flights,’ the mission said.
People familiar with the matter said the mission in Tel Aviv had received requests for assistance from Indian nationals who were stranded in Israel, including tourists.
The Indian Navy and Air Force could also be brought into service for bringing back Indian nationals.
‘Operation Ajay’ is not technically an evacuation, sources say, as travel arrangements are being made only for Indians who have specified that they wish to return home.
The move comes at a time when several countries, including Hungary, Poland, Italy and Mexico, have operated special flights to evacuate their citizens from Israel in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks that have left over 2000 dead and over 300,000 people in Gaza displaced.
There have been no reports of casualties among the 18,000 Indian nationals living in Israel. The figure includes about 900 Indian students, including 4 in Gaza itself who are presently in a difficult situation to be evacuated.
Reports suggest about 17 Indians are currently in Palestinian areas, including 13 in the West Bank and four in the Gaza Strip, which is currently being targeted by Israeli forces as part of the offensive against Hamas.
Concerns about the security situation have grown after citizens of neighbouring countries also lost their lives in the escalation of violence.
A 24-hour control room has been set up at the external affairs ministry to monitor the situation in Israel and Palestine and to assist Indian nationals.
Officials from the Indian embassy in Israel met students at Tel Aviv University and a group of caregivers on Wednesday to allay their concerns and to assure them of help.
The burning cauldron in the Middle East
With Israel on the verge of ordering a land offensive in Gaza in retaliation, the entire Middle East is now tense as the world watches the scenario unfold.
While media houses participate in the theatre of war, there is a divided opinion among the national security planners on whether the Israel-Hamas conflagration could engulf the Middle East or spread outwards.
The answer to this question lies in the intentions of the Iran-backed Hezbollah towards the Israeli retaliation and how much their involvement will be.
As of now Hezbollah has only fired warning shots in north Israel and confined itself to verbal stances.
If Hezbollah opens up on north Israel then it is only a matter of time before Iran gets into the conflict and leads to a global escalation of the war.
Could Iran enter the conflict?
A highly radicalized ruling elite of Iran also believes that the US is behind the current unrest of women in their country with imprisoned activist Narges Mohammadi being awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize.
With propaganda active on social media, images of Israeli retaliation in Gaza now will be used by jihadists to push other states into conflict as both Hamas and Hezbollah have umbilical links with the pan-Islamic Muslim Brotherhood.
While an all-out war also depends on larger geopolitical play and on how maturely states like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, who are totally against the Brotherhood, handle their public opinion within their own country.
As of now, UAE and Bahrain have at least called out the grave escalation on the part of Hamas but other countries like Qatar and Turkey, have been critical of Israel’s heavy retaliation.
While it is said that Hamas leader Mohammed Deif planned the south Israel attack in 2021 after seeing images of Israeli forces storming Al Aqsa mosque during Ramzan, there is fear of lone-wolf attacks against Israelis emerging globally, after images of the pounding of Gaza make news internationally.
Given that a new cycle of terrorism has only just begun, the world will have to be on its toes as countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan could use the Israeli retaliation to weaponize their own brand of political Islam to suit their own geo-political interests for the coming years.
India would also be on alert as the scenario develops.
Emergency Helpline Numbers
The ministry of external affairs has set up a 24-hour control room in the national capital to monitor the situation in Israel and Palestine. The phone numbers for the control room are: 1800118797 (toll free), +91-11 23012113, +91-11-23014104, +91-11-23017905 and +919968291988, while the email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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