13 Oct 2023

Israel-Palestine War: I am happy to return home, but sad also, as our friends are there in Israel: Indian student on arrival in Delhi under Operation Ajay


New Delhi: A chartered flight brought approximately 200 Indian citizens back to their homeland from Israel in the early hours of Friday. This marked the initial phase of Operation Ajay, an initiative undertaken by India to assist those desiring to return due to recent attacks on Israeli communities by Hamas militants, which had intensified tensions in the region.

Upon their arrival at the Delhi airport, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar warmly received the passengers as they disembarked from the aircraft. He extended his greetings with folded hands and shared handshakes with many, conveying a heartfelt "Welcome Home."

'Don't know what shape this conflict will take'

Among the returnees was Shashwat Singh, a post-doctoral researcher who, alongside his wife, had been residing in Israel since 2019. 

"We woke up to sounds of air raids' sirens. We stay in central Israel. I don't know what shape this conflict will take... I am doing postdoc in agriculture there," he told.

Singh commended the evacuation of Indians as a praiseworthy endeavor, expressing hope for the restoration of peace and their eventual return to work. He conveyed his gratitude to Prime Minister Modi and the Indian Embassy in Israel, emphasizing that the Indian government had reached out to them via email.

According to MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, there are currently around 18,000 Indian residents in Israel, with a few in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the wake of the multi-pronged attacks by Hamas militants from Gaza and Israel's subsequent retaliation, which resulted in approximately 2,600 casualties, Israel launched a significant counter-offensive in Gaza.

'We were in shelters'

Suparno Ghosh, a first-year PhD student at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel, hailing from West Bengal, was among the group of Indians who returned to Delhi. 

"We were in shelters... the Israeli government has made shelters everywhere, so we were safe," he said.

Another student Deepak expressed mixed emotions about returning home, citing concern for their friends who remained in Israel. Nevertheless, he appreciated the smoothness of the evacuation process.

"We heard sirens on Saturday. As the attack happened, we could hear the sound. Israeli authorities were telling us to take safety measures. It was a continuous attack. I am happy to return home, but sad also, as our friends are there in Israel," he said.

But, the evacuation process was very smooth, the student told reporters.

'Situation there was pretty messy'

Duti Banerjee, another West Bengal native who was also among the first batch of Indians evacuated from Israel, said the situation there was "pretty messy and unsettled".

"Normal life has been paused. People are scared and angry. Even when I was leaving, I heard sirens and had to go to a shelter," she said.

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