Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said India hopes Palestine will soon become a free country in a peaceful manner. Modi, who visited Palestine as part of his four-nation trip from February 9 to 12, added that dialogue was the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We know it is not easy but we need to keep trying as a lot is at stake.”

In an indirect reference to Israel, the prime minister praised Palestinians for continuously showing “exemplary courage in extremely tough times, in spite of the fact that there was an unstable environment”.

Modi announced that India was helping in the construction of an Institute of Diplomacy in Palestine, and said that New Delhi would double the number of exchange students in 2018 from 50 to 100. “I have assured President Abbas that India is bound by a promise to take care of the Palestinian people’s interests,” Modi said.

India and Palestine signed six agreements on infrastructural development, reported ANI. An MoU was signed to set up a India-Palestine Super-specialty hospital at Beit Sahour at a cost of $30 million (approximately Rs 200 crore). The two countries also signed deals to construct an India Palestine Centre for empowering women, a National Printing Press at Ramallah, two schools in Muthalth Al Shuhada and Tamoon villages and an additional floor ay Jawahar Lal Nehru for Boys in Abu Dees.

President Mahmoud Abbas awarded Modi the Grand Collar of the State of Palestine, the highest honour for foreign dignitaries visiting the region. Modi said the it was an honour for India and a symbol of Palestine’s friendship. “India and Palestine’s relations have stood the test of time,” he added. “Palestine has always taken a top spot in our foreign policy.”

Abbas said that India had always supported peace in Palestine. “We have said and will say that we are ready to engage in negotiations [with Israel],” the Palestinian president said. “We rely on India’s role as an international force, its role in the non-aligned movement and in the international fora, in a way that is conducive to desired peace in our region.”

Before the joint statement, Modi laid a wreath on the memorial of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Earlier, B Bala Bhaskar, joint secretary in the Foreign Ministry had said that providing infrastructure and facilities to Palestine would be the focus of Modi’s visit. “We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel. Now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive and as part of this policy the prime minister is undertaking this visit,” he added.

As part of his tour, Modi visited Jordan on Friday. He will tour the United Arab Emirates and Oman before concluding the trip.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had visited India in January. The two countries signed nine memorandums of understanding, including those on film cooperation, homeopathy, cyber co-operation, and science and technology.