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      Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs-Govt of India (October 19, 2023)

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this weekly media briefing. I don’t have any announcements. I’ll open the floor for questions.

      Meghna Dev: Sir, Meghna Dev from DD News. Do we know of any Indian nationals, any casualties that have happened in Israel amidst the conflict?

      Dhairya Maheshwari: Sir, Dhairya Maheshwari, Sputnik. There have been two UN security resolutions, calling for a humanitarian ceasefire and humanitarian pause in Gaza. What’s India’s position on that?

      Ayushi Agarwal: Sir Ayushi Agarwal from ANI. Sir, I would like to have your comment on a recent media interview of the President-elect of Maldives.

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Before I go to that, I think there are some more questions still on Israel-Palestine. Why don’t I take that and I’ll come back to you.

      Pia Krishnankutty: Hello. Pia Krishnankutty with The Print. Just wanted the MEA’s reaction to the Gaza hospital bombing, for which there’s still no certain actor who has taken responsibility for it, or there’s not enough information to say who is responsible for it. What is the MEA’s reaction on this?

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: To what?

      Pia Krishnankutty: To the bombing.

      Sandeep: Sir, Sandeep News 18 India se. Sir, mera sawal hai ke ab Lebanon me bhi Hezbollah ke sath woh….woh area jo hain, ab dobara se situation ab kharab ho rahi hai. To kya waha pe jo Indians se hain ya rehte hain, unke liye koi advisory aap logon ki taraf se issue ki gayi hain?

      (Question in Hindi: Approximate translation) Sir, Sandeep from News 18 India. Sir, my question is that situation is getting worse in Lebanon also…the area with Hezbollah. So, has any advisory been issued from MEA to the Indians there or living there?

      Vijai Laxmi: Sir, Vijai Laxmi hun India TV se. Sir, abhi tak kitne Bhartiya waha se wapas laaye gaye hain, aur Gaza aur West Bank me bhi kuchh log the jo phase hue the, usko le kar ke koi jankari?

      (Question in Hindi: Approximate translation) Sir, Vijai Laxmi from India TV. Sir, how many Indians have been brought back so far, and also, any update on some Indian nationals, those were stuck in Gaza and West Bank?

      Yeshi Seli: Yeshi Seli from The New Indian Express. Is India planning to extend any humanitarian aid to Palestine, Gaza?

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay. No other questions. Let me try to take this set of questions.

      Look, let me make broadly…first on Operation Ajay, we’ve been talking about. I think the query was…Vijai Laxmi Ji apka prashna tha kitne log aaye hain waha se. Dekhiye Operation Ajay jo chal raha hai, uske tahat kareeb 1200 log abhi wapa aaye hain, 5 flights par. Isme kareeb 18 inme se Nepali nagrik bhi shamil hain. Hum is situation ka jayza le rahe hain, aur aavashyakta ke aadhar par hum flights aur plan karenge.

      Aapne Gaza ke bare me puchha tha. Waha pe pehle kareeb char log the, abhi exact number hamare pas nahi hai, coordinate kar rahe hain, aur maine kaha tha kareeb 12 ya 13 log West Bank me the. Gaza me sthiti aisi hai, nikalna thoda mushkil hai, par mauka mile toh agar wo nikal paye. Kuchh reports hain ki ek do nikal bhi aaye hain, par galat khabar me nahin dena chahunga abhi, jab tak confirmation nahin aaye. Par Israel me abhi jo hamara chal raha hai, Tel Aviv se flights, wo abhi jaise maine kaha, kareeb 1200 nikle hai 5 flights me. Aur bhi flights hum plan kar rahe hain, jaise demand rahega uske basis pe.

      (Answer in Hindi: Approximate translation) Ms. Vijai Laxmi, to your question as to how many Indians have come back from there. Look, under the ongoing Operation Ajay, approximately 1200 people on five flights have come back so far, including 18 Nepali nationals. We are taking stock of this situation and will arrange more flights as per requirement.

      You also asked about Gaza. There were about four Indians there; however, we don’t have the exact number yet, we are coordinating on that, and also, as I said, about 12 or 13 people were in West Bank. The situation in Gaza is such that it’s very difficult to travel from there, but if possible that they come back…there are some reports that 1 or 2 have managed to return, but I won’t like to give wrong information, without confirmation. But our operation which is ongoing in Israel, flights from Tel Aviv, as I said, 1200 Indian nationals have traveled in five flights so far, and we are planning more flights as per demand.

      On the larger issue of what has happened on Indian…Meghna, your query was on Indian casualties. No, I, thankfully, have not received any reports of any Indian casualty. As I had mentioned, one Indian national had been injured. She is receiving medical care, and I understand her condition is now stable.

      As regards, Sandeep Ji aapka prashna Lebanon pe, dekhiye waha pe koi advisory abhi tak nahin humne issue kiya hai, zarurat padega ham us tarah se advisory issue karenge. Hum situation pe nazar banaye hue hain, aur jis tarah se developments hongi us tarah se, abhi ke liye koi advisory nahin hai.

      (Answer in Hindi: Approximate translation) Mr. Sandeep, regarding your question on Lebanon, so far we have not issued any advisory there. If need be, we will issue an advisory. We are monitoring the situation, and will assess according to developments, but so far no advisory has been issued.

      On the other larger issues, as you said, about UN security… you have seen the tweets as well as the statement by Prime Minister, as well as we had commented on this last week. We have strongly condemned the horrific terrorist attack on Israel. The international community must stand together in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and there can be no equivocation on this. There was also issue of Palestine, and on that, we have reiterated our position in favor of direct negotiations for establishing a two-state solution. We have also expressed our concern at the civilian casualties and the humanitarian situation. We would urge the strict observance of international humanitarian law.

      You would have also seen, as I mentioned earlier, one of the tweets by Prime Minister, and specifically about the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza where he conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims and prayers for speedy recovery, and he said that civilian casualties in the conflict are a matter of serious and continuing concern, and those involved should be held responsible.

      We had also talked, Yeshi, about are we providing humanitarian assistance. Let me actually mention on that, and probably you also are aware. We have been supporting Palestine and Palestinian refugees through significant contribution to UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. Total of USD 29.53 million has been contributed to UNRWA between 2002 and 2023. The Indian annual contribution was actually increased from USD 1.25 million to USD 5 million in 2018. And we have pledged this annual contribution of USD 5 million for the next two years. If there are any further developments, we will share that with you. We are looking at the situation.

      I think I’ve covered all of that. Any other topic? Yes, Ayushi, you had a query.

      Ayushi Agarwal: Sir, Ayushi Agarwal from ANI. Sir, I would like to have your comment on the recent media interview of the President-elect of Maldives, Muizzu, where he said that he will request the Indian government to remove its troops on day one after he takes charge. Also, he said that during his meeting with the Indian High Commissioner, he mentioned this as a top priority of his foreign policy. So your comment on that? And also, has he taken up this matter with New Delhi diplomatically, as he stated in the interview?

      Sandeep Dikshit: Sir I am Sandeep Dikshit from the Tribune. The Maldives President-elect in an interview has said that he’s open to joining BRI, and they’ve talked highly of Chinese projects that have been done. So what is the state of Indian projects that are going on, and will they proceed their ways despite the change in government?

      Sudhi Ranjan: Sir, Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg. Associating with two other questions previous to me, on Maldives. Also, anything particular and specific on the port that India was building in Maldives and the assistance that the Navy was giving to the Maldivians, if you could give us an understanding on that. And plus, an unrelated question on Venezuela.

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Can I come back? Anybody else on the Maldives?

      Reza: Reza from the Hindustan Times. Basically on BRI, again, the meeting that is being held.

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Can I come back to you? Look, you asked different parts of it. Do remember that the inauguration has not yet taken place and the President-elect is there. So it’s the same administration for now we are discussing. Let me make a larger point on cooperation with Maldives.

      Look, our cooperation with Maldives is based on jointly addressing shared challenges and priorities. The assistance and platforms that we have provided have contributed significantly in areas like people’s welfare, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and combating illegal maritime activities. Over the last five years, more than 500 medical evacuations have been carried out by our personnel, saving 523 Maldivian lives. Of these, 131 evacuations were carried out this year, another 140 last year, and a further 109 in 2021. Similarly, during the last five years, more than 450 multifaceted missions have been carried out to safeguard the maritime security of Maldives. Of these, 122 missions were carried out last year, while the 152 and 124 missions were undertaken in 2021 and 2020 respectively. India has also been the first responder for Maldives in any disaster scenario, including most recently during COVID.

      We look forward to constructively engaging with the incoming administration and discussing ways to enhance our relationship further. There was a specific query on whether these issues that the President-elect mentioned, has been taken up. Look, he’s President-elect, so as of now, of course, our High Commissioner has met him, and I mentioned that we had a conversation, and we look forward to engaging with the incoming administration on all these issues.

      Sudhi, to your query also, we look forward to continuing with our cooperation and partnership with Maldives, which is multifaceted, which covers areas for benefit of the Maldivian people, particularly in humanitarian assistance or welfare or disaster relief or other issues that I mentioned.

      As regards, Sandeep, your query was on BRI with Maldives. Again, that’s a statement by president-elect. You know our views on BRI. And I understand Reza has a query, and I’ll respond to that. But we are focused, as I said, with our neighbours and our partnership stand on their own merit, and we are focused on how we can take forward our bilateral cooperation.

      Reza: Reza from Hindustan Times. My question is basically on the BRI meeting that was hosted by China, and you know how President Xi… and there was a reaffirmation from President Putin about the need to coordinate on the foreign policy and to work together on these issues. How do you look at that, given the fact that President Putin and President Xi both did not attend the G20 meeting in Delhi?

      Sudhi Ranjan: Sir, Sudhi Ranjan again from Bloomberg. On Venezuela, sir, we see that the sanctions, US sanctions on Venezuela, are being reduced or being diluted. Will India start its economic engagement with Venezuela, in particular, buying oil from Venezuela?

      Huma Siddiqui: Sir, Huma Siddiqui from The Financial Express. Just adding on to Sudhi Ranjan’s question. So if and when the sanctions are removed, will India start discussing about the pending payments which are stuck in Venezuela? And what about the private company, Jindals, they have bought or they are planning to buy some oil field there?

      Avinash Agarwal: Avinash Agarwal from The Asahi Shimbun. Sir, this is about the planned G20 Virtual Summit. Can you tell us if any date has been finalised so far, and if yes, how many leaders are expected to join?

      Rajeev: Hi, I am Rajeev from Malayala Manorama. I just wanted to ask about the update on the eight Indian naval officers detained in Qatar, and also about the news that one or two journalists who had reported on this were asked to leave the country recently.

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: You mean there?

      Rajeev: Yeah, who were based in Doha, they were asked to leave the country for reporting on this.

      Yeshi Seli: This is Yeshi again. I want to know whether India was invited for this BRI forum, and if yes, why did India decide to skip it?

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me take the BRI query. Reza, Yeshi…look, I am loaths to link G20 participation, non-participation with any of these other things. For the G20, we have invited everybody, as I mentioned. As you recall, China was represented by their Premier here. Different countries have different decision-making perspectives when deciding on participation and that is pretty normal. I think we have answered that question at length earlier.

      As regards the BRI, Yeshi, I don’t think we received an invitation this year. However, on our position on the BRI, including its lack of respect for our sovereignty and territorial integrity, are well-known and consistent. I would refer you to our statements earlier, particularly the statement I think we made in May 2017. I think the first time the BRI forum was being held, and I think those concerns stand even today. So, that would be on the BRI.

      Sudhi, as regards the issue of Venezuela, your query was, will we start buying oil if the sanctions are diluted. Look, as I said, our perspective on this – and this will be answered in the context of other countries where we managed to procure oil – is guided by our energy security requirements, how we look at it. So, depending on that a decision is taken. We would of course, for the benefit of our own people, like to have more sources and access to energy, and particularly oil. So, that is something that I wouldn’t like to speculate, but the larger principle that guides it is ensuring the energy security of India.

      Similarly, Huma, you had said about Jindals. Look, that is the question you have to ask them. Of course, as and when we are able to raise the issues of pending payments, etc, we will raise it; but again, I do not want to prejudge what could happen without any significant movement on the ground. This is something, of course, we keep a close eye on, and as and when there are developments, we will share with you. But some of this, of course, is done by the private sector or by traders. So, as I said, larger picture of being guided by our energy security requirements, I think, is overarching framework.

      Avinash, you had asked about G20 Virtual Summit. Yes, invitations have been extended. I am not sure the date is yet public. The countries know the date. There is a fixed date in November that we have, but let’s hold up for announcing it publicly. As yet, I am sure other countries are aware of it. We look forward to participation by as many leaders as they can. It’s a virtual event. But again, like I answered Reza’s query, participation is dependent on the invitee, but we do hope that there is high degree of participation at this Summit.

      Rajeev, you had asked about the developments in Qatar. Let me see if I have an update here. My understanding is that there was a last hearing, the 7th hearing, earlier this month. We are closely following the court proceedings in what is called the Court of First Instance. As I said, October 3rd was the 7th hearing. We understand that a judgment is expected, in fact, later this month. Earlier, our Ambassador and our Deputy Chief of Mission met the eight men in prison on October 1st, after they were granted consular access. As you are aware, we have been in regular touch with the families too and we are rendering all possible assistance. So as and when we have more updates, we will share that with you.

      As regards journalists being asked to leave, I presume you are talking about non-Qatari citizens. I don’t have information on that. I don’t even know if they are Indian, I have noted. It hasn’t come to our attention. Nobody has complained to us. I will note it down.

      Srinjoy: Sir, the Karakoram Highway is being upgraded. It’s a joint effort by Pakistan and China. It’s a 240-kilometre stretch between Raikot and Thakot which is being upgraded. Besides that, there is a Frontier Tunnelling Institute in Pakistan that has begun work on the CPEC. We just wanted your views on both.

      Kallol: This is about the burning issue of the day, the Palestine-Israel conflict.

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I just did a whole series of it.

      Kallol: Just one more, which is that, has India really made its position clear on the ceasefire? More than 3,700 Palestinians have died, and more than 1,300 Israelis are dead. Many Indians are living there and working. So what is really India’s position on the ceasefire? Reza: Reza from Hindustan Times. Just a clarification. You mentioned about the hearings in Qatar, and that a judgment is awaited this month. Does that mean that the charges have finally been laid against the Indian sailors?

      Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. Srinjoy, I wouldn’t like to comment on specific developments that you mentioned, except to say that you know our position on that…these are territories that are in illegal occupation of Pakistan, and you know our position very clearly, on violation of our sovereignty and our territorial integrity. And let me reiterate the same. I don’t want to comment on exactly what is being done, but our view on developments in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir are very clear, and I just have to reiterate them today on both these issues. I understand they do pass through those areas of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir that are part of Indian territory.

      Kallol, as I mentioned again, since you missed the first part and you just…let me reiterate what we’ve been saying. I think we have talked about the terror attack. We have condemned it, and I think it is important that the international community stand together to condemn it. On Palestine, our position, we have reiterated our position in favour of direct negotiations for establishing a two-state solution. We have also expressed, in particular at your query, our concern at the civilian casualties and the humanitarian situation that is happening day by day, and we would urge the strict observance of international humanitarian law. So that is what I would like to share with you.

      Reza, look…yes, the charges were presented as part of the hearings. But again, I wouldn’t like to get into the legal part of it. They have legal representation in court. We are now looking forward to, as I said, to the 7th hearing, to what the court judgment is. And we hope that they are able to return back to India.

      Thank you for joining. Good evening.

      Special Words-Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir

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