Ukraine appeals for more help from Israel, which eyes ties to Moscow

TEL AVIV, March 1 (Reuters) - The Ukrainian envoy to Israel tearfully implored it to provide more war aid on Tuesday even as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defended his government's open channels to both Kyiv and Moscow as a means of offering "quiet" help.

While the Israeli foreign minister has condemned the Russian invasion, Bennett's rhetoric has been circumspect. At Kyiv's behest, he proposed Israel mediate peace talks. He has also voiced solidarity with Ukraine and sent it humanitarian relief.

Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk said Israel had not met Ukraine's request for helmets and "defensive weapons" like those given by Western powers. Israel should yank Russian broadcasters popular with its big former Soviet immigrant community, he said.

"We want Israel to support us by all means in these difficult days,” he told reporters, tears in his eyes. "We are asking for (its) humanity, to understand our people's needs."

Israel is keen to keep rank with its U.S. ally on the crisis. But it is also mindful of Moscow's military sway in next-door Syria, where it regularly strikes Iranian targets. Israeli-Russian contacts prevent them trading fire by accident.

"Israel effectively has a security border with Russia," Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised statement. "Our cooperation mechanism assists in our determined battle against Iranian entrenchment on our northern border."

Bennett said Israel's "measured and responsible approach" to the crisis "allows us not only to guard our interests, but also to be useful -- to be a credible player, one of the few that can communicate directly with both parties, and assist as required".

"And we are indeed helping -- quietly," he said in a speech at Mossad intelligence headquarters, according to his office.

The Russian embassy declined to comment.

Korniychuk called on Israel to expand its asylum criteria for Ukrainian refugees. Israel -- population 9.2 million -- says it is focusing on the 40,000 Ukrainian Jews and 180,000 Ukrainians with Jewish family ties who might want to immigrate.

Reporting by Henriette Chacar; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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