India's Narendra Modi begins four-day Middle East tour

India's Narendra Modi begins four-day Middle East tour
Narendra Modi has set off on a tour of the Middle East, which will see him become the first Indian prime minister to visit the Palestinian territories.
3 min read
09 February, 2018
Modi has embarked on a four day visit to the Middle East [AFP]

India premier Narendra Modi embarked on a historic visit to the Middle East on Friday, which will see him become the first Indian prime minister to visit the Palestinian territories when he arrives in Ramallah this weekend.

Modi's visit to the region comes amid warming ties with Israel, a major departure from India's historic role as a champion of the Palestinian cause.

Modi sent a series of tweets on Thursday announcing his impending visits to Jordan, the Palestinian territories, the UAE and Oman.

"I will be undertaking bilateral visits to Palestine, United Arab Emirates and Oman from 9th to 12th February," he wrote on Twitter. 

"The Gulf and West Asian region is a key priority in our external engagement. We enjoy vibrant multi-dimensional ties with the countries there."

He will arrive in Ramallah on Saturday after a visit to Amman on Friday, where he is due to meet Jordan's King Abdullah II.

"The Palestine visit will begin on 10th February after transiting through Jordan. I am grateful to His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan for facilitating the transit and look forward to meeting him in Amman on 9th February," he added.

India and Israel have bolstered military, intelligence and economic cooperation in recent years, as new relations were paved under Delhi's Hindu nationalist government.

New Delhi is keen to send out a message to its Arab allies that it still supports Palestine's right to statehood, particularly after Binyamin Netanyahu's January visit to Israel.

"We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel and now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive and as part of this policy the prime minister is undertaking this visit," B. Bala Bhaskar, a joint secretary in the Indian foreign ministry, said, according to Reuters.

India's position could see it play a more constructive role in peace talks between the two sides, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this week.

"We are receiving Prime Minister Modi in a historic visit that will demonstrate the strong ties and relations between the Palestinian people and the brotherly Indian people," he told Indian press by email.

"We will discuss... recent developments in the peace process... and the possible role India can play in enhancing peace in the region."

Modi's visit to the Gulf will see him meet with Oman and the UAE's sizeable Indian communities, the prime minister informed.

He will also meet Oman leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said, along with business leaders to boost economic ties. Oman's development of its port facilities look to be a focus of attention, as the sultanate looks to strengthen trade with neighbouring countries.

"Oman is a close maritime neighbour with whom we enjoy excellent relations... The Indian diaspora is a bridge of friendship between India and the Gulf countries," he tweeted.

Modi will attend the annual World Government Summit in the UAE, where India is a guest country of honour.

The meet aims strengthening dialogue and technology exchange between global leaders and part of the UAE's push to position itself as a major international player.