Rescue operation ends in tragedy

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A resident takes cover for possible return fire as National Security Guard commandos fire at terrorists holed up at Nariman House in Colaba, Mumbai, on Friday.
A resident takes cover for possible return fire as National Security Guard commandos fire at terrorists holed up at Nariman House in Colaba, Mumbai, on Friday.

Anupama Katakam

Mumbai: Forty-eight hours after it began, the battle at Nariman House ended in tragedy. Eight bodies were removed from the Jewish centre after intense fighting between the terrorists and the National Security Guards (NSG).

The police said three of the bodies were of the terrorists, one NSG commando and four civilians. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, who runs the Jewish Chabad House and his wife Rivka were among the civilians found dead.

Ever since the terrorists entered the five-storey building on the night of November 26, there has been continuous firing. The NSG entered the site around 9 a.m. on Thursday. Around midnight they surrounded the building and progressed to the ground floor.

At 4 a.m., five to six grenades were thrown into the building. At 7.30 a.m., five commandos landed from helicopters on the roof.

Pincer plan failed

According to police sources the plan was to get the commandos on the ground floor to work their way upwards systematically combing each floor and for those who landed on the roof to move downwards. This pincer action was to corner the terrorists.

The only person who came out of the building was a woman carrying a two-year-old child. Coming out at 10.45 a.m. on Thursday she told The Hindu reporter that the parents of the child were lying unconscious and another was badly injured.

Moses Joseph, an anxious neighbour at the scene said the child belonged to the couple.

As the battle raged on inside Nariman House, Joseph, who knows the Rabbi very well told The Hindu that Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtsberg and his wife Rivka had moved into the building about three years ago. They started the Chabad House, which is connected to the Chabad-Lubawich movement, and is essentially a place where the Israelis could come to if they wanted kosher food, shelter, help with documentation, or just to pray at the synagogue.

A generous rabbi

“He was a very generous man who welcomed all of us, whether you are Israeli Jew or Indian Jew in a very warm way,” said Joseph. “Lots of Israelis come here. Some are poor back packers, some are rich people. Chabad houses are famous across the world for looking after Israeli visitors. For instance, if you are an Israeli visitor in Italy and need help or to eat the right food then they could go to a Chabad house. It is free of cost.”

Rabbi Gavriel was a Jew from the U.S. and his wife Rivka from Afula in Israel.

Nariman House or the Chabad House as it was rechristened by the Rabbi is located in a small lane near Colaba market, which is the most congested part of the Colaba area. Not many people seemed to know of it until this crisis. It seems clear the terrorists knew its whereabouts and had specifically targeted it, says Joseph.

Zaka team in Mumbai

Atul Aneja reports from Dubai:

A spokesman for Zaka, an Israeli non-governmental organisation which helps in the identification of victims of terrorism, road accidents and other disasters, said in a brief statement: “Apparently the hostages did not remain alive.”

An international response team of two Zaka paramedics along with six other volunteers are in Mumbai. The team is accompanying the parents of Rivka Holtzberg, who left Israel on Thursday for Mumbai via Turkey.

Zaka chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said on Thursday: “After consultation with the Foreign Ministry’s situation room, it became apparent that Zaka must immediately send a delegation from its international response team to deal with the unfolding situation in Mumbai. The team is carrying all the advanced medical equipment necessary to deal with any eventuality, including the need for medical air transport.”

The Mumbai incidents had triggered a flurry activity in the Israeli Foreign Ministry and other government and non-government organisations. Nearly 25 persons have been posted in the Foreign Ministry’s situation room. Concerned parents, relatives and friends have been making urgent calls to the Ministry to locate the whereabouts of Israelis who had travelled to Mumbai.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it was difficult to assess the number of Israelis because not all had registered themselves with the Israeli consulate in Mumbai upon arrival.

Israeli authorities were in regular touch with their Indian counterparts. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said late on Thursday that she had spoken to “various defence officials in Israel who are in constant contact with their counterpart officials over there.”

She added: “We have people there as well and they’re also in touch, not only on the diplomatic level.”

Israeli media reported that Ms. Livni had spoken to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. During his conversation with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak offered India security, intelligence and humanitarian assistance to deal with the crisis.

The daily Haaretz said: “It appears the Indian government is not interested in high profile security assistance from Israel. Throughout the day [Thursday], the Homefront Command prepared to send an aid delegation to India, but efforts were halted when it became clear that Mumbai was not enthusiastic about the prospect.”

Nevertheless, the daily reported that Israel had on Thursday dispatched a number of intelligence officers to India to assist in analysing the terror attacks in Mumbai.

Analysts point out that the attack on Nariman House has revealed that Mumbai has become part of a network of orthodox Jewish centres that are spread across the globe.

The Mumbai centre receives instructions from Rabbi Yosef Kantor, Chabad’s executive director who is based in Thailand, diplomatic sources said.

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