17/01/2016 5:31 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Sushma Swaraj Arrives In Palestine, Holds Talks With Top Leaders


RAMALLAH -- External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today held talks with her Palestinian counterpart as she began 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.

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.

Swaraj will inaugurate the India-Palestine Digital Learning and Innovation Centre as part of capacity building efforts undertaken by the Indian government in Palestine.

Ahead of Swaraj's visit to Palestine, the External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson had said, "This is the first visit of External Affairs Minister to West Asia region and Palestine is the first destination in the region which in itself reflects the importance India holds for Palestine in its engagement with the countries of the region."

India is executing several projects in Palestine to improve the living conditions of people and has been active in capacity building by extending scholarships to Palestinian students and building schools.

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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