Foreign Ministry, PM praise Indian handling of terror attacks amid concern criticism could strain ties.
By HERB KEINON, ABE SELIG
An Israeli Air Force plane left for Mumbai Sunday night to identify and retrieve the bodies of the six Israelis and Jews killed there and bring them to Israel for burial.
Three other Israelis, young males after their army service, have still not been accounted for, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it was possible that they were not in Mumbai during the terrorist rampage.
The plane to Mumbai carried a delegation that included an Israeli forensic team, representatives of the foreign and defense ministries and officials from the IDF rabbinate.
Palmor said that the plane was expected to return with the bodies, as well as families of the victims, who traveled to Mumbai on either Monday or Tuesday. The plane's departure was delayed a few hours so that the necessary visas could be obtained.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert referred to the Mumbai attacks at the outset of Sunday's cabinet meeting, saying that "There is no doubt that these attacks were designed, inter alia, to intentionally harm Jewish institutions."
"The pictures of the Jewish victims, especially the scenes of those who ran the Chabad House, wrapped in prayer shawls even as their blood-covered son was miraculously saved from the inferno, are shocking and take us back to events that we pray never recur." Olmert said.
"But the hatred of Jews, the State of Israel and Jewish symbols are still a factor that spurs and encourages such murderous acts," he added.
Against the background of criticism voiced by some Israelis of India's handling of the crisis, and especially of how their commandoes had operated, Olmert made a point of praising the Indian government.
"Throughout recent days, there was proper and correct cooperation between us and the relevant Indian authorities" Olmert said. "In the framework of our contacts with the Indian authorities, we made it clear that we would be happy to provide any and all information or specific assistance that we might be asked to give. At no stage were the issues of whether or not Israel should join the operation or do things that were within the power of the Indian Government and its strong and trained military to do alone on the agenda.
"I am very pleased at the cooperation and would like to take this opportunity to thank the Indian Government for seeing fit to update us throughout the events."
The Foreign Ministry echoed Olmert's sentiments, concerned - apparently - that the quick criticism coming from some sources in Jerusalem could complicate relations between the two countries.
"Despite the tragic results of the Indian rescue actions at the Chabad House, there is praise in Israel for the high level of the operation and the fact that from the very beginning, there was cooperation with Israel at the highest levels, and that the Indian authorities provided all information and other requests submitted by Israel," said Yossi Levy, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman for the Israeli press.
"We are convinced that the Indians did their utmost to prevent any harm to the Israeli and Jewish hostages in the house and to the civilians around it," Levy continued. "Despite the tragic results, the cooperation with India reaffirmed our strategic alliance and deepest mutual understandings."
Diplomatic officials said that Israeli-Indian counter-terrorist cooperation was already very close, and likely to get closer as a result of the attacks.
The forensics team, headed by Chief Superintendent Itzik Koronio, is made up of seven other experts on the identification of human remains, two DNA experts and a doctor from the Abu Kabir forensics institute in Tel Aviv.
Additionally, a group of counter-terrorism experts from various branches of the defense establishment will be on board, as they plan to investigate the circumstances that led up to the attacks along with the response mounted by Indian security forces.
The counter-terrorism experts will try and examine whether the attack was part of a new terrorist tactic, and whether there was a need to make adjustments in the security arrangements already in place in Israel.
Israeli officials are trying to figure out who was behind the attacks, what Web sites and other materials the attackers used to plan the operation, where they got their instructions from and where they were trained.
The sole surviving gunman from the Mumbai massacre, Azam Amir Kasav, told Indian police that the terrorists had been sent with a specific mission of targeting Israelis at the Chabad House in order to avenge atrocities committed against the Palestinians, The Times of India reported on Sunday.
Additionally, a source told the newspaper that some of the other Islamic terrorists killed in the drawn-out Indian commando raid on the building had actually stayed at the Chabad center, also known as Nariman house, as part of the planning for the brutal attack.
"They stayed in Nariman house on a rental basis, identifying themselves as Malaysian students," said the source, adding that police were investigating how Chabad House rooms were rented to non-Jews.
The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report.
However, some of the terrorists were reported to have had an outwardly western appearance, and Israeli intelligence services, among others, have expressed interest in gathering more information on Western converts to Islam who may have an easier time passing screening test at airports or border crossings based on their appearance and background.
In the past, warnings of possible attacks on Chabad houses around the world have been issued, especially around Jewish holidays, but no specific threat was made on the Chabad house in Mumbai before the attacks began unfolding on Thursday.
Nonetheless, Israeli government and business officials in India were ordered to be on high alert.
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