Zelenskiy asks Israel to mediate with Russia, Ukraine envoy says

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 20, 2022. Tsafrir Abayov/Pool via REUTERS

JERUSALEM, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday to mediate in the conflict with Russia, the Ukrainian envoy to Israel said, adding that it was latest in a string of so-far fruitless requests from Kyiv.

"We have been talking to the Israelis for at least the last year about a possible intermediary role for Israel," Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk told Reuters. "Our leadership believes that Israel is the only democratic state that has excellent relations with both countries."

Bennett's spokespeople were not immediately available for comment. An earlier statement by his office about Bennett's conversation with Zelenskiy made no mention of any mediation.

"Bennett reiterated his hope for a speedy end to the fighting, and said that he stands by the people of Ukraine in these difficult days," the statement said, adding that the prime minister offered Kyiv humanitarian aid.

Korniychuk said Friday's phone conversation between the leaders was the fifth time that Zelenskiy had asked Bennett for Israeli mediation, and that he had previously asked former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Following up with the Israelis after one of the earlier appeals, "I heard (that) this offer was not well-accepted by the Russian side," Korniychuk said.

Reached by Reuters, a diplomat at Russia's embassy to Israel declined comment, saying he was not authorised to speak to the media.

While calling for a peaceful solution in Ukraine, Israel has been cautious about openly criticising Russia, a major player in the conflict in neighbouring Syria. It has offered shelter to members of Ukraine's Jewish community caught up in the fighting.

Israel, whose main ally is the United States, condemned the Russian invasion on Thursday as "a serious violation of international order" and has since remained largely muted on Moscow's actions.

The Israeli ambassador in Moscow was summoned for talks, the Russian embassy in Israel said on Friday.

"The hope was expressed that Israel would treat with due understanding the reasons that prompted the Russian leadership to decide to conduct a special military operation to protect civilians in Donbass, demilitarize and denazify Ukraine," the embassy said.

Additional reporting by Henriette Chacar and Maayan Lubell; Editing by James Mackenzie, Alistair Bell and Sandra Maler

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