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Israeli PM Bennett vows more talks with Russia’s Putin

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Passengers disembark from an airplane carrying Jewish immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine upon arrival in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in Lod near Tel Aviv on Sunday. AFP

Israeli PM Bennett vows more talks with Russia’s Putin

Israel’s premier said on March 6 his country had a “moral obligation” to help stem fighting in Ukraine, after shuttle diplomacy saw him visit the Kremlin and as hundreds of Jewish Ukrainians landed in Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met for three hours with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on March 5, before flying to Berlin to meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Bennett, acting after Kyiv asked him to launch a dialogue with Moscow following Russia’s military offensive, has also held three phone calls in 24 hours with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Speaking on March 6 before his weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett said Israel would press on with diplomatic efforts “as needed”.

“Even if the chance is 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,” he said.

Bennett has been walking a cautious line on the Ukraine war, seeking to preserve delicate security cooperation with Russia, which has a large military presence in Israel’s northern neighbour, Syria.

Without providing details, the Israeli premier’s office said Bennett spoke over the phone on March 6 with Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and also with Putin.

The Kremlin said the pair had a “thorough exchange of views” and “agreed to stay in touch”.

Bennett has not joined Western powers in forcefully condemning the Russian military offensive or providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, instead sending humanitarian aid.

Israel said on March 6 it would build a field hospital in Ukraine and transfer generators to Lviv hospital, adding to 100 tonnes of supplies sent the previous week.

Israel said Bennett’s Moscow trip was coordinated with Washington and major European powers, but Israeli media reported that American officials have expressed doubts that Bennett can influence Putin’s actions.

Bennett’s office said he also discussed with Putin on March 5 the fate of Jews in Ukraine and Russia.

Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on March 6 that Israel was preparing for around 100,000 people from both countries to move to Israel, under laws that allow people with verifiable Jewish lineage to become Israeli citizens.

Some 300 Ukrainian Jews landed on March 6 in three flights, including 100 orphaned children whom the prime minister greeted at Ben Gurion Airport.

The immigration ministry has offered extended benefits and temporary hotel stays to the newcomers.

Shaked said that since the outbreak of the conflict, 2,034 Ukranian refugees had entered Israel, 90 per cent of whom do not qualify for the “law of return” that applies to those with Jewish lineage.

Bennett was the second world leader to sit down with Putin since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the Kremlin the day the military offensive began, in a long-scheduled trip.

Bennett and Putin also discussed on March 5 ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Israel staunchly opposes.

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