THE first batch of around 200 Indians returned from Israel on Friday (13) with the sound of air raid sirens, rocket fire and screams ringing in their ears.
Israel witnessed a surprise attack by Hamas in its southern parts on Saturday (7) morning. Hundreds of people have been killed in the deadliest attack the country has witnessed in decades.
“We woke up to sounds of air raid sirens. We stay in central Israel and I don’t know what shape this conflict will take,” said Shashwat Singh soon after landing at Delhi airport along with his wife.
The post-doctoral researcher in agriculture, who has been staying in Israel since 2019, said the sound of those sirens and the nightmarish experience of the past few days still haunt him.
The evacuation of Indians is a “praiseworthy step”, Singh said soon after the flight landed.
“We hope peace will be restored and we will return to work… The Indian government got in touch with us via email. We are thankful to prime minister Modi and the Indian embassy in Israel.”
India has launched Operation Ajay to facilitate the return of those who wish to come back home as a series of brazen attacks on Israeli towns by Hamas militants over the weekend triggered fresh tension in the region.
Many students who returned home recalled the fateful night of Saturday and how they had to rush to shelters multiple times in the wake of rocket attacks by Hamas.
Suparno Ghosh, a West Bengal native and a first-year PhD student of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at Beersheba in Israel, was also among the group of Indians who reached Delhi on the special flight.
“We could not know what happened. On Saturday, some rockets were launched. But, we were safe in shelters… the good thing is that the Israeli government has made shelters everywhere, so we were safe,” he said.
Several women students also recounted the grim situation they faced when the attacks happened.
“It was a panic situation. We are not citizens there, we are just students. So, for us whenever the sirens go on, it’s a panic situation for us,” Jaipur native Mini Sharma said.
Asked when she received the information about the rescue flight, she replied, “Just a day before.”
“We packed our bags yesterday morning after receiving a message from the Indian embassy. They were very helpful. We were able to get in touch with them round the clock,” Sharma said.
Deepak, another student, said, “We heard sirens on Saturday. We could also hear the sound of the attack. Israeli authorities were instructing us (to take safety measures). I am happy to return home but at the same time sad that our friends are there (in Israel).”
The evacuation process was very smooth, the student told reporters.
Duti Banerjee, another West Bengal native who was also among the first batch of Indians evacuated from Israel, said the situation in Israel was “pretty messy and unsettled”.
“Normal life has been paused. People are scared and angry. Even when I was leaving, I heard sirens and had to go to a shelter,” she said.