New Delhi: Israel has turned down a request from President Pranab Mukherjee to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam's holiest shrines, during an unprecedented visit to Jerusalem next week, citing security concerns following a recent spate of violence at the compound.
India had proposed a visit by Mukherjee to the mosque, a part of the Temple Mount compound that also houses some of the most revered shrines of Judaism and Christianity, during his trip from October 13 to October 15, The Telegraph reported citing confirmation from two senior officials.
But a visit would be impossible, Israel communicated to India, amid daily clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters that have triggered fears of a wider uprising or intifada of a kind that in the past has claimed thousands of lives, the officials said to The Telegraph.
Pranab Mukherjee leaves New Delhi on Saturday on a six-day three-nation visit to Jordan, Palestine and Israel, the first to the three countries by an Indian head of state, during which a number of deals have been lined up in areas ranging from culture to technology.s
The first leg takes him to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at the invitation of King Abdullah-II Ibn Al Hussein, during which he is scheduled to deliver a speech at the University of Jordan and meet the Indian community, besides holding bilateral discussions with the leadership there.
"The visit will be the first by an Indian president to Jordan in the last 65 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Jordan in 1988," a senior external affairs ministry official here said.
In Palestine, with which India shares ties over a long period, Mukherjee will meet his counterpart Mahmoud Abbas, besides Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. The visiting dignitary is to deliver a lecture at Al Quds University there and inaugurate the Nehru secondary school at Abu Dees.
The visit to Israel, in the last and final leg, also holds importance for bilateral ties that have been warming up significantly in recent years. Mukherjee will interact with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and address the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
"India established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 and since then the relationship has evolved into a multi-dimensional partnership," the external affairs ministry official said.
Mukherjee will also visit the Hebrew University where he will be presented an honorary doctorate.
The president's delegation includes Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot and six members of parliament, including K.P. Thomas of Congress, Meenakshi Lekhi of BJP and Anupam Hazra of Trinamool Congress,
The vice chancellors of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia and the director of IIT Kharagpur are also to accompany the president.
In both Jordan and Israel, an important component of the visit is engagement with the Indian community there. Around 10,000 Indians reside in each of the two countries. While in Israel, some 9,000 of them are caregivers, in Jordan they are employed in varied sectors.
This apart, around 80,000 Jews of Indian-origin have shifted to Israel, the bulk of them during the migration wave of the 1950s and 1960s.
"There are about 25 garment factories across Jordan owned by Indians with an investment of over $300 million and employing over 10,000 people," an external affairs ministry brief said, adding that around 45,000 Indian tourists visited Jordan in 2014.
According to officials, defence and agriculture have been the main pillars of India-Israel ties since the relation were upgraded in 1992, even as they have now expanded to technology, education and homeland security.
In terms of bilateral trade, India has exchanged merchandise worth $1.89 billion with Jordan and $4.5 billion with Israel in 2014.