New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will visit Israel and Palestine on January 17-18 to further build on the goodwill generated by the landmark trip of President Pranab Mukherjee to the two key West Asian nations three months back.
As External Affairs Minister, it will be Swaraj's first visit to West Asia, a strategically important region where India is trying to expand its engagement.
Palestine will be her first destination where she will hold talks with leadership of the country with an aim to boost bilateral engagement and deepen mutual understanding at the political level.
"The visit will also reaffirm India's continued political, diplomatic and developmental support to Palestine," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, adding the trip will further "deepen the mutual understanding at the political level and boost bilateral engagement with Palestine."
After completing her engagements in Palestine on January 17, Swaraj will go to Israel the same day for a two-day visit during which she will hold discussions with the Israeli leadership and review the entire gamut of India-Israel relations which is on an upswing. India is Israel's largest buyer of military hardware.
Israel has supplied various weapons systems, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles over the last few years but the transactions have largely remained behind the curtains. Swaraj's visit to Israel also assumes significance in view of a possible visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India later this year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may also pay a return visit to Tel Aviv. Pesident Pranab Mukherjee had visited Tel Aviv in October last year, becoming the first Indian Head of State to visit the Jewish nation.
"India's relations with Israel are part of its engagement with the broader West Asia region and are independent of its relations with any country in the region," said Swarup. In Tel Aviv, Swaraj will have meetings with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Minister of Defence Moshe Ya'alon, Minister of National Infrastructure Yuval Steinitz and Israeli legislators.
"The visit is an important ingredient in the ever-growing relations, friendship and partnership between the two countries," the Israeli Embassy said in a statement. The External Affairs Minister will also interact with the Indian community during her visit to the Jewish nation.
"The visit will augment India's bilateral relations with Israel and further strengthen the linkages between the two sides," said the MEA spokesperson.
On Swaraj's visit to Palestine, he 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. In Palestine, Swaraj will also inaugurate the Palestine Digital Learning and Innovation Centre in Ramallah.