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TV report says PM rejected Zelensky request for military aid

Putin said not to take up Israeli PM’s mediation offer

Still, official says Bennett’s proposal in phone call with Russian leader demonstrates Jerusalem’s unique position in the region

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, on October 22, 2021. (Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP/ File)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, on October 22, 2021. (Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP/ File)

Israel’s offer to mediate in talks between Russia and Ukraine may be unlikely to lead to any concrete negotiations, but the Jewish state’s involvement could be seen as a positive move on the global stage.

Citing a senior Israeli official, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday that the government believes Israel’s positioning between the two nations “teaches something significant about the position of Israel in the region.”

The official told Kan that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attempted to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin during their phone call earlier in the day of Israel’s ideal capacity to host such talks, but Putin did not seize on the idea.

Bennett reportedly initiated the call with Putin and updated the United States and Ukraine both before and after the conversation. The phone call marked the first time Bennett and Putin have spoken since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are at one hour before midnight; it’s important to find the optimal points for dialogue,” Bennett said to Putin at one point in their conversation, according to a Channel 12 TV report.

The Kan report also said that Bennett reached out to Putin on Sunday afternoon in order to reassure him that a planeload of supplies slated to depart from Israel to Ukraine this week includes only humanitarian assistance, not military aid.

Bennett announced Sunday morning that Israel will be sending a plane carrying 100 tons of humanitarian equipment “for civilians in the combat zones and those who are trying to leave.”

The delivered equipment will include “water purification kits, medical equipment as well as drugs, tents, blankets, sleeping bags and additional equipment for civilians who are not in their homes in the cold winter weather,” he said.

Hours later, Bennett spoke with Putin and proposed that Israel serve as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. According to the Russian readout of the call, Putin told Bennett that Russia has sent a delegation to Gomel in southern Belarus to conduct peace talks with Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had proposed the idea of Israeli mediation to Bennett in a phone call on Friday, emphasized the country’s readiness for peace talks.

Initially refusing to hold peace talks in Moscow’s ally Belarus, which has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging ground for the invasion that began Thursday, Zelensky agreed later Sunday that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border.

“We will not capitulate, we will not give up a single inch of our territory,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said ahead of the first public contact between the two sides since war erupted.

Zelensky expressed his skepticism at the possibility of the talks bringing peace. “As always: I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try,” he said.

In this photo taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 27, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

According to Kan, during his phone call with Bennett, Zelensky requested that Israel also send military aid to Ukraine, but the Israeli leader implied that was not currently an option.

Bennett convened a meeting of the security cabinet on Sunday evening for a “comprehensive” discussion to examine “the implications of the situation for Israel.”

According to Kan, Bennett told ministers that Israel needs to “maintain a low profile” in the conflict, and that it is not a focal point in the crisis.

At the cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Bennett expressed concern for Ukraine and warned of humanitarian consequences, but refrained from condemning Russia or even mentioning it by name, as he did on Thursday.

“On behalf of all citizens of Israel, I would like to express the hope that this conflict be resolved before the war develops further and the humanitarian consequences will be much worse than we can even imagine,” Bennett said Sunday. “We are praying for the wellbeing of the citizens of Ukraine and hope that additional bloodshed will be avoided. We are conducting a measured and responsible policy.”

Israel has been careful in its comments on the conflict and Bennett has avoided criticizing Moscow publicly. This is believed to be at least partly due to its need to work with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid last Thursday called “the Russian attack on Ukraine” a “serious violation of the international order,” however, in a statement said to be coordinated with Bennett. Lapid added: “Israel condemns that attack, and is ready and prepared to offer humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian citizens.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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