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A refuge for Israelis now under siege

Archana Masih in Mumbai | November 27, 2008 18:18 IST

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Till Thursday morning, the little known Nariman House, which houses the local offices of an orthodox Jewish group, was one of the many buildings flanking the busy Colaba market area in south Mumbai. Who would have thought terrorists would attack this ordinary looking building after mounting an assault on the Taj, Trident and CST station, a short distance away, on Wednesday night.

As Mumbaikars watched their longest night of horror unfold with disbelief and fear, the morning came with news that terrorists had laid siege to Nariman House. Also known as Chabad (pronounced Habaad), it is a hub for Israeli tourists visiting Mumbai. The building has other residents as well, but is popular among Israelis in the city.

Chabad House is a sort of tourist information centre and a sort of refuge for visiting Israelis. It offers Kosher food and is a place for Israelis in Mumbai to celebrate Jewish festivals like Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah.

"It would probably be like an Indian centre, a place where you would probably go for a Diwali celebration if you were outside your own country with a small Indian population," a source at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi [Images] told on condition that the person would not be named in this feature.

As news of young Israeli Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his equally young wife Rivka being held hostage was revealed, some Israelis were relieved to know that their two-year-old son was released on Thursday morning along with his ayah. But there is deep concern about the lives of the rabbi, his wife and the others Israelis who may be in the building.

About six terrorists are still in the building as the operation to flush them continues. The Israeli embassy in New Delhi has said it is waiting for the security operation to conclude and will not confirm the number of its citizens trapped inside Chabad House.

All embassy officials will say is that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has spoken to the Israel consul general in Mumbai, who briefed her about the events.

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