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Diplomat course as please-all gesture

New Delhi, Dec. 20: India has just finished training 10 Palestinian diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Delhi, ia gesture to show its commitment to their cause.

Diplomats from a number of countries have been trained at the FSI in the past, but this is the first time that Palestinians were extended the facilities. And in an unprecedented gesture, minister of state for foreign affairs E. Ahmed came to hand over the certificates to the diplomats at a function in a city hotel on Saturday.

In the past, such certificates have been handed over by either the foreign secretary or some other senior official of the ministry, but never by a minister.

The decision to train the Palestinians was taken some months ago, but the timing of the course is significant. It came in the wake of a series of meetings between India and Israel to strengthen bilateral ties, a visit to Delhi by the Israeli deputy Prime Minister and a joint working group meeting on counter-terrorism.

The training of the diplomats, therefore, could be seen as part of the balancing act over West Asia that successive governments in Delhi have practised over the past few years.

There was speculation in some sections that after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance came to power in Delhi, India's relations with Israel might be affected. But while the government has made it clear that it would continue to strengthen ties with Tel Aviv, foreign minister K. Natwar Singh decided to take key alliance leaders to Yasser Arafat's funeral last month to indicate consensus in India on the Palestinian struggle.

Those who came for the training included senior diplomats like Omar J.. Faqih, director of the American affairs division, and Munjed M.S. Saleh, director of the Arab world department, as well as Fatima Tari, the young third secretary in the Palestinian embassy in Delhi.

The group also included Farid H.A. Qadih, head of the Israeli affairs department. The 30-year-old, who was in an Israeli jail, learnt Hebrew and got a degree from Israel University while still in prison. Soon after his release, he was asked to look after the department dealing with Israeli affairs.

'India is a great country and has been a traditional and close friend of Palestine,' Qadih said after receiving his certificate. He made it clear that Palestinians are 'confident' that India's ties with Israel will not be at their expense.

'We know India has to look after its national interest and deal with the Israelis on certain issues. But we are confident that this was not being done by diluting its support for the Palestinian struggle,' he said.

Qadih and his colleagues were happy that they could not only visit India but also complete the course at the FSI.

'It was a special gesture on India's part and it will go a long way to further strengthen the ties between our two countries,' Saleh said.

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