Man from Kerala killed in Hezbollah attack in Israel

Hezbollah has been launching attacks on Israel's northern communities and military posts since October 8 saying it is doing so to support Gaza

Updated - March 06, 2024 02:14 am IST

Published - March 05, 2024 09:24 am IST - NEW DELHI

Israel and Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant and political group in Lebanon, have traded near-daily strikes in recent months, as the war in Gaza has stoked regional hostilities. File

Israel and Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant and political group in Lebanon, have traded near-daily strikes in recent months, as the war in Gaza has stoked regional hostilities. File | Photo Credit: AP

One Indian was killed and two others were injured on Monday in northern Israel, in a rocket attack by Hezbollah, the Shia militant organisation of Lebanon. In an announcement, the Embassy of Israel said on Tuesday that the incident took place in an orchard in Margaliot, located along the Lebanese border.

The Times of Israel said that seven people had been hit in Hezbollah’s anti-tank rocket attack. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Pat Nibin Maxwell of Kerala was among those hit and killed in the attack.

Explained | What is Hezbollah and what is its involvement in the Israel-Hamas war?

This is the first reported death of an Indian near Israel’s border with Lebanon in several years and the Indian embassy in Tel Aviv has urged all Indians staying in the border areas of both northern and southern Israel to move to more secure locations. 

“Our prayers and thoughts naturally go to the families of the bereaved and those of the injured. Israeli medical institutions are completely at the service of the injured who are being treated by our very best medical staff. Israel regards equally all nationals, Israeli or foreign, who are injured or killed due to terrorism. We will be there to support the families and offer them assistance,” the Israeli embassy in India said in a statement. 

Pat Nibin Maxwell. Photo: X/Pat Nibin Maxwell via ANI

Pat Nibin Maxwell. Photo: X/Pat Nibin Maxwell via ANI

Kerala workers

“Pat leaves behind his wife who is seven months pregnant and a five-year-old daughter,” said the Israeli government in a social media post on Tuesday. Israeli sources further hinted that the Indians were purposefully hit by Hezbollah.

Maxwell’s body is likely to be flown to Kerala by late Wednesday or Thursday. The State government wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs, requesting that the process to repatriate the body to his native Kollam be speeded up. The body was taken to Tel Aviv for forensic examination and once that is complete, will be sent hom, according to officials from NoRKA-Roots, the field agency of the department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NoRKA).

The two Indians who were injured in the attack also hail from Idukki in Kerala, but their injuries are not as serious as earlier feared, the officials said.

The embassy blamed the incident on “Shia Terror organization Hezbollah” that targeted “peaceful agriculture workers who were cultivating an orchard at the northern village of Margaliot yesterday early afternoon.”

Fragile security situation

The incident once again highlighted the fragile security situation in Israel that entered a phase of intense conflict with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in October 2023 after an attack by Hamas left hundreds of Israelis dead. Subsequently, Israel has carried out relentless bombing raids in Gaza and associated military actions against Palestinians in the West Bank. This has drawn in external actors such as Hezbollah, which has been firing missiles and rockets in the northern part of Israel. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli Air Force targeted Bint Jabal, Al-Saltaniya, and Tzadikin inside Lebanon in response to Monday’s attack. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, around 18,000 Indians continue to reside in Israel despite the advisory issued in October that had prompted India to undertake several rounds of evacuations of Indians citizens.

Subsequently, however, the evacuation was paused. Israel has suspended work permits for thousands of Palestinians because of the ongoing conflict, leading to vacancies in a large number of positions, especially in the blue-collar segment of the economy. India and Israel had signed an agreement in May 2023 for 42,000 Indian workers to be absorbed into the Israeli economy. 

After the beginning of the latest conflict, a large number of Indian workers in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were seen queuing up to go to Israel to fill positions that had fallen vacant because of a lack of Palestinian labourers. The Ministry of External Affairs has, however, maintained that its advisory asking Indians to be mindful of the conflict on the ground remains in place, especially as the Indian ambassador to Israel Sanjeev Singla was seen pleading on social media to take shelter from the incoming homemade rockets fired by Hamas against Israeli targets.

“In view of the prevailing security situation and local safety advisories, all Indian nationals in Israel, especially those working in or working in or visiting border areas in the north and south, are advised to relocate to safe areas within Israel,” an advisory from the Indian Embassy in Israel stated. The Indian mission also gave a helpline number +972-35226748 for those seeking emergency assistance. 

A nurse from Kerala, Sheeja Anandan, was injured in a rocket attack in the first few days of the conflict in October 2023. Earlier, in 2021, Soumya Santhosh, another caregiver from Kerala, was killed in a rocket attack on Ashkelon, located near the Gaza Strip. 

Israel has emerged as a preferred destination for caregivers and nurses from India in recent years. Apart from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines are some of the other countries that send caregivers to Israel.

The presence of foreign workers in the midst of conflict has added a new dimension to the latest Israel-Palestinian conflict compared to previous decades. The Ministry of External Affairs is yet to comment on the incident.

(With inputs from the Thiruvananthapuram bureau)

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