Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left for India Monday morning on a visit that would mark the first of its kind by an Israeli premier to India since the two countries established full diplomatic relations in 1992.
The three-day visit is meant both to demonstrate the strength of the relationship as well as to boost defense, cultural and trade relations between the two sides.
Sharon will be accompanied by Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, Education Minister Limor Livnat, and Agricultural Minister Yisrael Katz as well as thirty of the country's leading businessmen. Defense Ministry director-general Amos Yaron will also be accompanying the Israeli Prime Minister.
Sharon is due to meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, and Defense Minister George Fernandes, as well as opposition Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi. He will be going both to Delhi and Bombay.
It is widely expected that final details of Israel's $1.2 billion sale of three Phalcon airborne early-warning radar systems will be finalized during this visit.
Meanwhile, with a Muslim population of an estimated 140 million, the second highest in the world, Indian police officials were on high alert for the trip after numerous groups threatened to protest Sharon's visit.
Indian intelligence officials warned that groups such as Hamas or al-Qaeda could call on Islamic groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammad to disrupt the trip with attacks.
Sharon's visit to India has angered Muslims throughout the country, with Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, for one, saying the visit would "encourage terrorism" in the subcontinent.
He said the visit has created fears among their community that the two countries are forging a new 'anti-Islamic' alliance.
Bukhari told ANI that the "Indian Government has always said that they want to eliminate terrorism from their land.
But by inviting the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon they have supported terrorism, as Israel is a terrorist state. Israeli government is utilising terrorism to the worst extent such that it is killing Palestinian Muslims and eliminating their community. By inviting the leader of such a state is like encouraging terrorism. Indian Muslims cannot stand this." (Albawaba.com)
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