PM Narendra Modi addressed the Indian community at an event in Israel's Tel Aviv. (AFP)
Jerusalem: Hours after India and Israel elevated their ties to a "strategic partnership", Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday announced a direct Delhi-Mumbai-Tel Aviv flight and simplified rules for getting Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, drawing loud cheers from the 5000-strong crowd of Indians at the Tel Aviv Convention Centre. It was for the first time in 70 years, he said, that an Indian Prime Minister got the opportunity to visit Israel. "This is a matter of joy," PM Modi said.
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PM Modi said Indian-origin people who had done the compulsory military service for Israel would now be eligible for OCI cards. He hailed the community and said innovation, science and technology will be bridge between two countries. "My Indian brothers and sisters toiled day and night to realise the dream of 'Make the desert bloom'," he said.
Before PM Modi spoke, Mr Netanyahu welcomed him and said, "These are the Jews of India. They love India, they love Israel, they love our friendship." He said the two countries "have a vast programme to take our ties to new heights. But we have a human bridge between us."
Earlier in the day, the two leaders talked of "shared priorities" and a strategic partnership that "can help global peace and stability," after holding back-to-back meetings over four hours that saw seven deals signed. They vowed to work together to protect their key interests and combat terrorism.
Mr Netanyahu said both countries are "challenged by forces of terror" and that their meeting with Moshe Holtzberg is an "expression of our commitment to fight the bad and defend the good."
"Ours is a partnership to seek good, defend good and achieve good. This is indeed a good day," said Mr Netyanhu, adding, "We spoke about so many fields where we can make a big difference - agriculture, water, health...today, India and Israel are changing our world and parts of the world." "We are making history together," Mr Netanyahu said.
PM Modi said Mr Netanyahu and he "agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests." He said they discussed "the situation in West Asia and the wider region", adding that "it is India's hope that peace, dialogue and restraint will prevail."
PM Modi also said that thriving two-way trade and investment flows were the bed-rock of a strong partnership. The two leaders will meet top CEOs from both countries today.
In his first engagement of the day, PM Modi, who is on a three-day visit, met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and tweeted a photo, saying, "The President of Israel welcomed me so warmly, he broke protocol. This is a mark of respect for the people of India." Mr Rivlin recalled his visit to India last year and said PM Modi is "one of the greatest democratic leaders."
"I for I, India for Israel and Israel for India," said PM Modi, who was greeted with a warm hug by President Rivlin. PM Modi has said it is a "singular honour" to be the first Indian PM to undertake "this groundbreaking visit."