Escalating Israel-Hamas conflict: Evacuations, suffering, and India’s response

In light of the evolving approach to evacuations, it becomes evident that the current government prioritises swift and comprehensive evacuation efforts, reassuring Indians abroad in times of crisis. Israel’s ground offensive looms as Gaza residents urged to stay home Amidst the escalating violence, Israel has issued a directive urging hundreds of thousands of civilians in […]

In light of the evolving approach to evacuations, it becomes evident that the current government prioritises swift and comprehensive evacuation efforts, reassuring Indians abroad in times of crisis.

Israel’s ground offensive looms as Gaza residents urged to stay home

Amidst the escalating violence, Israel has issued a directive urging hundreds of thousands of civilians in Gaza City to evacuate, signalling a potential ground offensive. The United Nations reports that Israel warned of a massive evacuation, affecting 1.1 million people in northern Gaza within 24 hours. The move follows a devastating toll on Gaza, where the desperate need for essential supplies like food, fuel, and medicine has skyrocketed. The Gaza Strip’s only power plant has shut down due to fuel shortages, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. The morgue at Gaza’s largest hospital is overwhelmed, reflecting the rapid increase in casualties.

Students recall sheltering amidst rocket attacks

Many of the Indian evacuees were students studying in Israel, and their accounts reveal the panic and fear they faced during the conflict. Students recalled rushing to shelters multiple times in response to rocket attacks by Hamas. The presence of shelters provided a sense of safety, but the constant threat left a lasting impact on their mental well-being. The evacuation process, according to the returning students, was smooth, with the Indian Embassy playing a crucial role in ensuring their safety. The emotional toll on those who remain in Israel is palpable, with normal life disrupted, and residents living in fear and uncertainty.

Operation Ajay: Key Details

India has set up a 24/7 control room in New Delhi, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah. The phone numbers of the control room in Delhi are 1800118797 (toll-free), 91-11 23012113, 91-11-23014104, 91-11-23017905 and 919968291988, and the e-mail ID is situationroom@mea.gov.in.  According to the Union Minister, the country is ready for any emergency situation. Large number of Indian traders, IT professionals, domestic workers, and caregivers work in Israel. Operation Ajay is a repatriation operation to bring back Indian citizens from Israel, not an evacuation operation. Special chartered flights will bring back the Indians. Indian Navy ships will be deployed if the need arises. Indians in Israel who wish to return will be facilitated in this operation. There are around 18,000 Indians in Israel, including students, professionals, and traders. The first batch of Indians will be evacuated from Israel via a special charter flight on Thursday.

Operation Ajay rescues 212 Indians from Israel conflict

In a swift response to the escalating conflict in Israel, the first flight of ‘Operation Ajay’ successfully evacuated 212 Indian nationals, landing in Delhi early Friday. Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar welcomed the returning citizens, assuring them of India’s unwavering commitment to their safety.
Chandrasekhar, present at the airport, expressed gratitude to External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar, the ministry team, and the Air India flight crew for the safe return of fellow citizens. The returning Indians, including students, caregivers, and professionals, were greeted with folded hands by the minister.
Addressing the media, Chandrasekhar emphasised the government’s determination to protect every Indian abroad. He conveyed Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to bringing them back home safely and thanked the embassy in Israel for its continuous efforts.
One of the returning citizens, speaking to ANI, expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Modi for the assistance and hoped for a swift return to normalcy in Israel.
Indian Ambassador to Israel, Sanjeev Singla, highlighted the embassy’s efforts under “Operation Ajay” to ensure the well-being of Indian nationals. He assured that more flights were planned to bring back those willing to return.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, confirmed the launch of “Operation Ajay” to facilitate the return of citizens, with the first chartered flight successfully completing its mission. Bagchi stated that there were no reported Indian casualties so far and urged citizens to follow advisories.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated “Operation Ajay” to bring back approximately 18,000 Indians in Israel, with registrations beginning on Thursday. The Indian embassy in Israel established a helpline for citizens in need, while the MEA set up a 24-hour control room to monitor and provide assistance.
Earlier, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar chaired a meeting to review preparations for “Operation Ajay,” underscoring the government’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of Indian citizens caught in the conflict.

What are the Evacuation Operations carried out by India?

Operation Ganga (2022): It is an evacuation mission to bring back all the Indian nationals who are currently stranded in Ukraine. The tensions between Russia and Ukraine are currently heightened, with war erupting in Ukraine after the Russian military launched a series of attacks recently.

Vande Bharat (2020): When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, the Centre launched the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indian citizens stranded in foreign countries.
In the multiple phases of the operation, about 60 lakh Indians were brought back as on 30th April, 2021

Operation Samudra Setu (2020): It was a naval operation as part of the national effort to bring home Indian citizens from overseas during the Covid-19 pandemic. It successfully brought back 3,992 Indian citizens to their homeland by sea. Indian Naval ships Jalashwa (Landing Platform Dock), and Airavat, Shardul and Magar (Landing Ship Tanks) participated in this operation which lasted over 55 days and involved traversing more than 23,000 km by sea.

Evacuation from Brussels (2016): In March 2016, Belgium was hit by terrorist strikes at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek Metro station in central Brussels. A total of 242 Indians, including 28 crew members, returned to India in a Jet Airways flight.

Raahat (2015): In 2015, a conflict raged between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels. Thousands of Indians were stranded and Yemen was not accessible by air due to a no-fly zone announced by Saudi Arabia. Under Operation Raahat, India evacuated nearly 5,600 people from Yemen.

Operation Maitri (2015): It is the joint relief and rescue operation by the Indian government and the Indian Armed forces in the aftershock of the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
The joint Army-Air Force operation brought over 5,000 Indians back from Nepal by Air Force and civilian planes. The Indian army successfully evacuated 170 foreign nationals from the US, the UK, Russia and Germany.

Operation Safe Homecoming (2011): India launched ‘Operation Homecoming’ to bring back Indian citizens stranded in conflict-torn Libya. Under the operation, India evacuated 15,400 Indian nationals. The air-sea operation was conducted by the Indian Navy and Air India.

Operation Sukoon (2006): As Israel and Lebanon broke into military conflict in July 2006, India rescued its stranded citizens by launching this operation, which is now famously known as the ‘Beirut Sealift’. It was the largest naval rescue mission since the ‘Dunkirk’ evacuation. The task force evacuated about 2,280 people including some Nepalese and Sri Lankan nationals between 19th July and 1st August 2006.

Kuwait Airlift (1990): In 1990, when 1,00,000 Iraqi soldiers armed with 700 tanks marched into Kuwait, the royals and VIPs had fled to Saudi Arabia. The general public was left behind to fend for themselves. Over 1,70,000 of those stranded in Kuwait were Indians.
India kicked off the evacuation process in which over 1,70,000 Indians were airlifted and repatriated to India.