On landing in New Delhi after a six-hour flight, Indian students back from Israel said they cannot even describe what they went through over the past few days and that they are relieved to be home.
The chartered plane carrying 212 Indian citizens is the first to reach New Delhi after the Centre launched Operation Ajay to bring back Indians stranded in Israel amid its war with Hamas. The government will be running more flights to bring back others stranded in Israel.
More than 18,000 Indians are in Israel and over 6,000 have registered with the Indian embassy there for a flight back home.
Dyuti Banerjee from Kolkata, who is pursuing a PhD at an Israel university, said she is relieved to be back home. “It was quite scary there in the last three days. We are thankful to the Indian government for arranging a flight as soon as possible. Everything was arranged within 24 hours,” she said.
Ms Banerjee said the situation in Israel’s border areas is terrifying. “Kids have been slaughtered. This never happened. My Israeli colleagues asked me to come home,” she said.
She also said many of her friends have joined the war as part of Israel’s reserve army. “I hope my friends stay safe,” she said.
Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar was at the airport to welcome the Indians back from the war zone, where over 4,000 people have died in the Hamas attack and Israel’s counterstrike.
Another student, Priyanka, said some of her friends had been in Israel for a while and knew the security protocol. “They helped us out, told us not to panic,” she said, adding that Israel’s people are “very resilient”. “They really care for you,” she added.
Prathibha, a student who returned on the flight, said, “The experience of being in a war zone can’t be described in words. The sound of sirens is still ringing in my ears.”
Union Minister Chandrasekhar said the Indian government will “never leave any Indian behind”. “Our government, our Prime Minister, is determined to protect them and bring them back home safely. We are grateful to External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, the team at the ministry, the flight crew of this Air India flight for making this possible, for bringing our children back home safely and soundly and back home to their loved ones,” he said.
After the Hamas attack sparked the war, Air India had suspended flights to and from Tel Aviv till October 14.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi yesterday said India is keeping a close watch on the situation in Israel. He added that there have been no Indian casualties so far. “There is conflict going on and it is a matter of concern. Indians are advised to follow advisories issued by our mission,” he said.