Israelis warned to urgently leave India’s Kashmir region amid growing unrest
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Israelis warned to urgently leave India’s Kashmir region amid growing unrest

Indian officials have called for tourists to evacuate area as security tensions escalate

Indian Hindu pilgrims carry bags on their head as they trek up to Chandanwari in Kashmir, some 115 km southeast of Srinagar, during the annual Hindu pilgrimage on July 27, 2019 to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath. (TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP)
Indian Hindu pilgrims carry bags on their head as they trek up to Chandanwari in Kashmir, some 115 km southeast of Srinagar, during the annual Hindu pilgrimage on July 27, 2019 to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath. (TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP)

The Israeli government on Saturday warned Israelis in India’s Kashmir region to leave as soon as possible, citing the local government’s call for tourists to depart in light of security concerns.

Even before the new travel advisory by the Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the Prime Minister’s Office, Israel has long warned its citizens to avoid the region due to terror threats and military tensions between India and Pakistan.

A government order in Indian-administered Kashmir on Friday asked tourists and Hindu pilgrims visiting a Himalayan cave shrine “to curtail their stay” in the disputed territory, citing security concerns and intensifying tensions following India’s announcement it was sending more troops to the region.

Kashmir’s home secretary, Shaleen Kabra, said in the order that the pilgrims and tourists should “curtail their stay in the [Kashmir] valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible.”

The order cited “prevailing security situation” and the “latest intelligence inputs of terror threats with specific targeting” of the annual Hindu pilgrimage as reasons for the advisory. The 45-day annual pilgrimage draws hundreds of thousands of people to the hallowed mountain cave, the Amarnath shrine.

The order comes after officials on Thursday suspended the pilgrimage for four days due to bad weather along the route. The pilgrimage began on July 1 and about 300,000 pilgrims have visited the icy cave so far this year, according to officials.

In the past, dozens of pilgrims have been killed in attacks blamed on rebels. However, hundreds of people have died due to exhaustion and exposure in harsh weather during arduous treks in the icy mountains.

Muslim rebels fighting for decades against Indian rule in Kashmir accuse India’s Hindu majority of using the pilgrimage as a political project to bolster its claim on the contested region.

An Indian Border Security Force soldier stands guard on a glacier at Chandanwari in Kashmir, some 115 km southeast of Srinagar, during the annual Hindu pilgrimage on July 27, 2019 to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath (Photo by TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP)

The advisory is likely to escalate the tensions in the region, which has been on edge since last week when India announced it was deploying at least 10,000 more soldiers to one of the world’s most militarized areas. The troop buildup has sparked fears that New Delhi is planning to scrap an Indian constitutional provision that disallows Indians from buying land in the Muslim-majority region.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and each claim the divided Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

Kashmir, a region known for lush green valleys, lakes, meadows and dense forested mountains, has become notorious for long hauls of security lockdowns and crackdowns.

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