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On refugees, 'We must not only be good Jews but good people'

Lapid says ‘no justification’ for Russia invading Ukraine as he meets Romanian PM

On three-day trip to countries bordering Ukraine, foreign minister set to hold talks on humanitarian crisis; calls on Russia to stop attacks and resolve conflict with negotiation

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă in Bucharest, March 13, 2022 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă in Bucharest, March 13, 2022 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday that there was “no justification” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as he met with Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca in Bucharest to discuss the crisis.

The foreign minister tweeted that “like Romania, Israel condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

“It’s without justification, and we call on Russia to stop its firing and attacks, and to resolve this conflict around the negotiating table,” he wrote.

“Israel will do all it can to help reach a peaceful solution,” Lapid said. “We are working in complete coordination with our ally, the United States, and with our European partners in order to try and end this violent tragedy as quickly as possible.”

Lapid also stressed, in a tweet from the Romania-Ukraine border crossing at Siret, that Israel has “a moral obligation to be part of the international effort to help refugees from Ukraine find a warm home and a bed to sleep on.”

“It’s our obligation not only to be good Jews but to be good people,” he added, in comments that contrasted with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s repeated stress that Israel’s “sacred” task is to focus on Jewish refugees. Israel has also capped the number of non-Jewish refugees it will accept at 25,000 — 20,000 of whom were in Israel before the Russian invasion.

Lapid’s office said in a statement that the meeting with Ciuca dealt with the situation in Ukraine and its impact on Romania.

The two discussed the situation of refugees at the border, and Israel and Romania’s humanitarian aid.

A Customs employee holds his hand to a refugee boy fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine with his family at the border crossing, at the Romanian-Ukrainian border, in Siret, Romania, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

Lapid also thanked Ciuca for the close cooperation his country is providing to Israeli Foreign Ministry personnel presently in Romania.

“Relations that are good in routine times have strengthened into real partnership in an emergency,” Lapid said in the statement.

Lapid is on a trip that will take in Romania and Slovakia, both of which border Ukraine, for talks with their leaders on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as bilateral relations with Israel.

People fleeing from Ukraine queue as they wait for a bus at the border in Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia, March 4, 2022 (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

During the three-day visit, Lapid will also meet Israeli Foreign Ministry officials who have been working under “emergency conditions” at the border crossings with Ukraine for the past two weeks, helping Israeli citizens, Ukrainian Jews, and other refugees fleeing the war.

Since Russian launched its invasion on February 24, over 343,000 Ukrainian citizens have fled their country to neighboring Romania, CNN reported Thursday. Of those, most have moved on to other countries although over 84,000 have stayed behind in Romania.

Israel’s good relations with both Ukraine and Russia has enabled it to take on the role of mediator between the two countries.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met personally with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month and had several phone conversations with him as well as with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Bennett spoke by phone with Zelensky on Saturday after Zelensky proposed that Jerusalem host ceasefire talks between Ukraine and Russia, and asserted that Israel could play an “important role” in the efforts to end the war.

Details of Israel’s mediation efforts have remained obscure. Saturday saw a top adviser to Zelensky deny a report that Israel had pushed the Ukrainian leader to accept an offer from Putin that would see Kyiv make significant concessions to end Russia’s invasion.

Israeli officials have indicated that Jerusalem has not taken a position, nor has it brought forward a proposal for a ceasefire. Rather, they assert that Bennett’s role has been clarifying the sides’ positions to each other and to other global players.

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