RAMALLAH, Occupied Territories: Narendra Modi on Saturday became the first Indian prime minister to visit the occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of a Middle East tour.
The visit, which comes weeks after Modi hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is seen as an Indian effort to balance its strengthening ties with Israel.
Modi and his entourage flew in by helicopter from Jordan, landing near Abbas’s Ramallah headquarters, an AFP reporter said.
The Indian and Palestinian leaders were set to discuss issues including information technology, health and tourism during the brief visit, after which Modi will return to Jordan.
New Delhi has long backed the Palestinian quest for nationhood and Modi has voiced support for an independent state existing peacefully alongside Israel.
Modi became the first Indian leader in history to visit Israel in July last year, with the two states signing deals on cybersecurity and energy.
India’s refusal to support US moves to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital disappointed Israel but was consistent with its support for the Palestinians.
A senior official said Abbas asked India’s visiting prime minister to support a multi-country sponsorship that would replace the United States as the sole mediator in future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Modi laid a wreath at the grave of Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Modi and Abbas are to sign cooperation agreements worth $50 million (Dh183.5 million).
Modi’s visit comes after he hosted Israel’s prime minister for six days last month, reflecting warming ties.
Abbas has sought international support for replacing the US as sole Mideast mediator, after President Donald Trump recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Abbas has so far failed to win such commitments.
Modi’s three-day tour will also take him to Oman and the UAE.
The Gulf is a critical region for New Delhi. India sources more than half its oil and energy supplies from the region, and around nine million Indians live and work there, sending home billions of dollars in remittances annually.