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Indian acrobatics on Israel air strikes
- Delhi mulls fresh statement to factor in ‘disproportionate use of force’

New Delhi, Dec. 28: The word “condemn” was missing and “cross-border provocation” figured prominently. But government sources and former diplomats today insisted that not too much should be read into India’s official reaction last night to Israel’s Gaza strikes.

The air raids — retaliation for rocket attacks by militant group Hamas that rules Gaza — have come at a time many Indians have been urging strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan in response to the Mumbai carnage. Tel Aviv’s action has so far killed about 290 Palestinians in two days.

“While India is aware of the immediate cross-border provocations resulting from rocket attacks (on Israel)… it urges an immediate end to the use of force against Palestinian civilians,” the foreign ministry said yesterday.

A ministry official today said the mention of “cross-border provocations” was a “statement of fact”, and the Centre had now noted the “disproportionate use of force” by Israel and would issue another statement. “We react to an evolving situation in due course,” the official added.

Rajendra Abhyankar, former secretary in the foreign ministry and West Asia expert felt Delhi should raise the “disproportionate force” angle in its own interests.

That, he said, would highlight how much leeway Israel was being allowed at a time “world powers are advising us to practise restraint in the wake of the Mumbai attacks”.

However, Abhyankar too said one statement could not be seen as a shift in Delhi’s West Asia policy, implying that thoughts of Pakistan —and not Palestine — may have driven its content.

“India’s support to the Palestinian cause is non-negotiable,” he said, but tacitly acknowledged Delhi’s new interests and compulsions by adding: “But then Israel has been supportive to us, especially in supplying key defence equipment…. The (Indian) statement does look like a please-all one.”

The same awareness led the Congress to attempt a balancing act. The party spewed “the strongest condemnation” of a “disproportionate use of brute force by Israel” that was “most deplorable and unacceptable to the civilised world”.

Sources said the Congress was “pushed” to issue this statement on a Sunday because the government had “certain compulsions and could not afford” to unambiguously flay Israel.

“Certainly not after the Mumbai terror strikes, which killed several Israeli citizens,” a party official said. Yet, with a general election just months away, the Congress could not ignore the “Muslim sentiment” either.

The Congress statement reaffirmed the party’s solidarity with the Palestinians and their “cause”.

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