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Indians ready to leave Lebanon

Forty-nine Indians have already been evacuated with Israel mounting attacks on Lebanon.

india Updated: Jul 18, 2006 19:36 IST

India on Tuesday said it was ready to move out 12,000 of its nationals from Lebanon if the situation escalates beyond a point - and clarified that no decision had been taken on the continued deployment of Indian troops on UN peacekeeping duties.

"In the eventuality of a situation demanding their evacuation, the Indian government will take all possible steps to move them to safety," Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma told reporters here.

"There has been no decision as for as the troops are concerned because they are part of a multinational force," Sharma added.

Israel has been targeting Hezbollah guerrillas since last Wednesday after two of its soldiers were kidnapped and eight killed, raining bombs on Beirut and parts of south Lebanon.

The Hezbollah hit back Sunday by firing rockets at the Israeli city of Haifa, killing eight people.

Forty-nine Indians were on Monday evacuated from Beirut, even as an Indian Army peacekeeper was "slightly wounded", officials here said, adding it was unclear how the incident happened.

The remaining 671 officers and men of the fourth battalion of the Sikh Regiment serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL) were safe, an army spokesman here said. A battalion of the Ghana Army is also deployed nearby.

"Our boys are secure and well-stocked. We are in constant communication with them and have asked them not to leave their compound (headquarters) till the situation improves," he added.

Their mandate is to monitor the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, a task that has extended some two decades.

Thus far, there are no moves to pull the Indian soldiers out.

"They are under the UN flag. Any decision on whether they stay, should be re-deployed or should be pulled out will be taken at the UN headquarters based on the assessment of the UN commander on the ground," the spokesman maintained.

Another 187 Indian Army officers and men are deployed as UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights on the Israel-Syria border but are not affected by the hostilities in the region.