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Indian PM Modi to meet Palestinian leader during Mideast tour

AFP , Monday 5 Feb 2018
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet the Palestinian leader during a brief tour of the Middle East, the foreign ministry said Monday, just weeks after hosting Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Indian premier will visit Ramallah first on his three-day tour of the region between February 9 and 12, which will also take in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Modi will hold talks with Mahmud Abbas in an overture seen as India's effort to balance its decades-old support for the occupied territories against its growing closeness to Israel.

Foreign ministry official B. Bala Bhaskar said Modi's visit would be his first, though the Indian premier has met Abbas on three previous occasions.

The leaders are expected to discuss information technology, health and tourism during the brief visit, Bhaskar added. Modi will also address a joint press conference and attend a banquet.

New Delhi has long backed the Palestinian territories' quest for nationhood and Modi has articulated support for an independent state existing peacefully alongside Israel.

Bhaskar said India's refusal in December to support US moves to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital was consistent with its unwavering support.

Ahead of the first visit by an Israeli leader to India in 15 years, Netanyahu said he was "disappointed" by India's decision.

But any tension appeared forgotten as the two leaders embraced in New Delhi last month and heralded a "new era" between Israel and India as deals were signed on cybersecurity and energy.

Modi became the first Indian leader in history to visit Israel in July 2017.

He will depart for the UAE on Saturday, where he will address a summit in Dubai and meet business leaders before travelling to Oman for further engagements.

The Gulf is a critical region for New Delhi. India sources more than half its oil and energy supplies from the region, and around 9 million Indians live and work there, sending home billions of dollars in remittances annually.

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