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Lapid speaks to Ukrainian counterpart for first time since Russian invasion

In a ‘long and positive’ talk, Dmytro Kuleba thanks foreign minister for Israel’s latest mediation efforts, humanitarian aid and position on sanctions

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, right. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar); (AP Photo)
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, right. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar); (AP Photo)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday and updated him on Israel’s continued efforts to mediate and provide assistance in the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The conversation was “long and positive,” Lapid said.

The phone call comes after reports that Kuleba had rebuffed appeals from Lapid to connect, purportedly angry over Israel’s carefully balanced support for Ukraine.

“The minister thanked Israel for our mediation efforts and our position on the matter of sanctions,” Lapid tweeted.

Lapid said he updated Kuleba on the “humanitarian aid that Israel has already sent to Ukraine and on the field hospital that Israel is sending.”

He added that “Kuleba also welcomed our policy for absorbing refugees,” and that both ministers agreed to stay in touch.

Kuleba tweeted about the conversation himself, saying that Lapid “assured me Israel won’t be the route for Russia to bypass sanctions.” The Ukrainian foreign minister also said he was grateful for Israel’s mediation efforts and humanitarian aid and that the pair discussed ways of ending the war in Ukraine and “agreed that the rights of Ukrainians arriving in Israel will be respected.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett left a cabinet meeting in order to hold back-to-back phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The call with Putin lasted for roughly an hour and a half, during which the two men discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in Ukraine, as well as efforts to allow access to Israeli humanitarian aid, a diplomatic official told reporters.

Bennett has also spoken with Zelensky multiple times since Moscow’s troops invaded Ukraine, though the two men have not met in person.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C), and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Combo photo: AFP)

Lapid declared in Slovakia on Monday that “Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries.”

However, Israeli officials told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Israel was not currently preparing sanctions on Moscow or Russian oligarchs.

Instead, Lapid’s statements were in line with Israel’s stance to this point, in which it has sought to maintain open lines of communication with both Moscow and Kyiv while showing support for Western positions without necessarily joining them.

Israel has said it will prevent Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the US from keeping their planes and yachts in Israel, but noted it was unable to prevent Russian-Israeli oligarchs, such as Roman Abramovich, from entering the country.

In this photo, released by Israel’s Government Press Office, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (left) talks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at Stamford Bridge, in London, November 21, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/Israel’s Government Press Office via AP)

Cabinet ministers on Monday approved plans for an Israeli field hospital to be established in war-torn Ukraine in the coming days.

The hospital — under a project dubbed Shining Star — is slated to operate in western Ukraine for fleeing refugees for one month, a government statement said.

Budgeted at NIS 21 million, the funds are to come from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Health Ministry and Foreign Ministry, as well as the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The hospital will include wards for children and adults, an emergency room, a delivery room and a primary care clinic.

In this handout image from the Health Ministry published March 5, 2022, an example field hospital is seen. Israel is sending a delegation to Ukraine to set up a field hospital in the country. (Courtesy/Sheba Medical Center, Health Ministry)

While Israel has agreed to absorb Ukrainian refugees, it placed an entry quota of 25,000 people who are not otherwise eligible for Israeli citizenship — including 20,000 in the country at the start of the war — drawing criticism from both within and outside the government.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced Sunday that people who are fleeing Ukraine and have relatives in Israel will be exempt from the entry cap placed on those refugees who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, one of numerous members of the governing coalition who have been protesting the entry cap, called the new policy “too little, too late.”

Tal Schneider and Lazar Berman contributed to this report. 

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