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March 6, 2022 4:04 pm

‘Moral Obligation’: Bennett Vows to Continue Ukraine-Russia Mediation Despite Slim Odds of Success

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

An elderly woman is helped while crossing a destroyed bridge as she tries to leave the city of Irpin, in the Kyiv region, Ukraine March 5, 2022. Jedrzej Nowicki/Agencja via REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed on Sunday to continue mediation attempts aimed at ending the fighting between Russia and Ukraine, even if the odds for success are slim.

“We will continue to assist even if the chances are not great — as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability. I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort,” Bennett said at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “As long as the candle is burning, we must make an effort and perhaps it will yet be possible to act.”

Bennett’s comments came after a blitz of unannounced meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Saturday to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

“I returned from Moscow and Berlin a few hours ago,” Bennett said. “I went there to assist the dialogue between all of the sides, of course with the blessing and encouragement of all players.”

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Bennett spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, the third phone conversation between the leaders in the past 24 hours. He also talked again with Putin over the phone, after speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to the TASS Russian news agency.

“The leaders continued to exchange views on the situation in the context of the Russian special military operation to defend Donbass, including in light of Bennett’s latest contacts with the leaders of several countries,” according to a Kremlin readout cited by TASS.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will travel to Riga, Latvia on Monday for a diplomatic meeting with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Since the intensification of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Israel has offered to act as a mediator as it has good relations and vested interests in both countries. It was previously asked by the Ukrainians to serve as a go-between with Moscow.

Meanwhile, Zelensky has repeatedly urged Israel to provide Ukraine with military aid, in addition to its humanitarian assistance.

“As you all know, the situation on the ground is not good. The human suffering is great and is liable to be much greater,” Bennett remarked. “There are also Israelis who need to return home and Jewish communities in distress that need help.”

Israel is bracing for a “significant” wave of immigration from the Ukraine and discussing absorption plans, which will be presented to the Security Cabinet this week, he added.

“This is a challenge for the State of Israel but it is a challenge we have met in the past, time and again,” Bennett assured. “At such moments, when the world is facing turmoil and Jews are no longer safe where they are, everyone is reminded how important it is that there is a home for Jews wherever they are; how important it is that we have the State of Israel.”

About 10,200 Israeli citizens left Ukraine in the three weeks since Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning for the country, with some 5,700 fleeing since the outbreak of the war. About 2,000 Israeli citizens remain in Ukraine, the ministry estimated.

Lapid on Sunday instructed the Foreign Ministry and Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) to continue providing humanitarian aid according to the needs of Ukrainian authorities and neighboring countries. This will include transferring six large generators to the Lvov Hospital to ensure continuous operation during power outages.

The ministry is already operating refugee assistance centers at border crossings where personnel are stationed, providing winter gear and equipment.

Israel’s Health Ministry also plans to set up a field hospital in Ukraine in the next few days, in partnership with Sheba Medical Center and the Clalit Health Fund.

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