Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid explicitly accused Russia of war crimes on Tuesday, in the strongest comments against Moscow yet by a top Israeli official.
“A large and powerful country has invaded a smaller neighbor without any justification. Once again, the ground is soaked with the blood of innocent civilians,” Lapid charged while in Greece, speaking alongside his Cypriot and Greek counterparts, according to a statement from his spokesman.
“The images and testimony from Ukraine are horrific. Russian forces committed war crimes against a defenseless civilian population. I strongly condemn these war crimes,” Lapid said in reference to the alleged atrocities committed in the Kyiv suburb Bucha.
Lapid noted that the war in Ukraine offered opportunities for new energy partnerships, saying that it will “change the structure of the European and Middle Eastern energy market.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned the killing of civilians in Bucha, but did not blame Russia or anyone else for the atrocities.
“We are shocked by the difficult pictures coming from Bucha, terrible scenes,” he said while visiting an army post in the West Bank.
Asked about the alleged mass killings of civilians by Russian forces, Bennett said, “We condemn them with all force.”
He noted that “the suffering of Ukrainian citizens is huge” and noted that Israel has set up a field hospital in western Ukraine, which “all Israelis should be proud of.”
Israel has avoided aligning too closely with either side since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. It is one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, as well as Russia.
Moscow controls the airspace over Syria, in which Israel operates to target Iranian proxies, and this is seen as a key reason for Israel’s careful comments on the war.
While Lapid has taken a clearer stance against Russia, condemning its actions in Ukraine on several occasions and vowing that Israel will not be used as a “route to bypass” sanctions on Russian oligarchs, Bennett has avoided blaming Russia, instead attempting to position himself as a mediator in the conflict.
His attempt at neutrality may prove increasingly difficult to maintain as world anger at Russia’s alleged actions against civilians grows.
Earlier Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of a “deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape” in Bucha.
His comments were among the strongest yet from the West after pictures of mass graves and streets strewn with dead civilians emerged from suburbs around Kyiv after Russian forces retreated.
The atrocities there were “not the random acts of a rogue unit,” he argued, adding that the US and its allies were determined to make sure those responsible are brought to justice and to increase pressure on Russia while backing Ukraine.
Blinken made the comments in Maryland before boarding a plane to Brussels for a NATO meeting.
The United Nations said Tuesday that all the signs from Bucha pointed toward civilians having been directly targeted and killed in the town outside Kyiv.
The UN Human Rights Office said the images emerging from Bucha were extremely disturbing and underlined that international law prohibited deliberate attacks on civilians.
“What we’re talking about here appears to be the direct killing and targeting of civilians in Bucha,” rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
Moscow has rejected Western accusations that its forces were responsible, suggesting the images are fake or that the deaths occurred after they pulled out.
But newly released satellite photographs taken by Maxar Technologies in mid-March, before the Russian withdrawal, showed what appeared to be bodies in some of the same places they were later found by Ukrainian troops and seen by journalists.
Breaking News: Satellite images refute Russia’s claim that the killing of civilians in Bucha, a suburb of Ukraine's capital, occurred after its soldiers had left town, a New York Times analysis found. https://t.co/2pDlly6EHs
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 4, 2022
Italy, Spain, and Denmark joined EU allies Tuesday in expelling Russian diplomats amid increasing outrage over the Ukraine conflict, with around 150 sent home in the last 48 hours. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that the mass expulsion of its diplomats was “a short-sighted move.”