KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday that Israel was undertaking many efforts to arrange top-level peace talks between his country and Russia and suggested they might take place in Jerusalem.
Zelenskiy, speaking in his daily video appeal to Ukrainians after addressing Israel’s parliament by video link, said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had been trying to act as an intermediary between Kyiv and Moscow.
“Of course, Israel has its interests, strategy to protect its citizens. We understand all of it,” said Zelenskiy, seated at a desk in his trademark khaki T-shirt.
“The prime minister of Israel, Mr. Bennett is trying to find a way of holding talks. And we are grateful for this. We are grateful for his efforts, so that sooner or later we will begin to have talks with Russia, possibly in Jerusalem.
“That’s the right place to find peace. If possible.”
In his address to the Israeli parliament by video link Sunday, Zelenskiy questioned Israel’s reluctance to sell its Iron Dome missile defense system to Ukraine.
“Everybody knows that your missile defense systems are the best... and that you can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians, of Ukrainian Jews,” said Zelenskiy, who is of Jewish heritage.
In the past week, Bennett has intensified his efforts to bring the two sides together and has spoken on several occasions to both Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last week, he flew in secret to Moscow to meet the Kremlin leader.
Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, also addressed again the Russian accusation that he heads an administration that espouses “Nazism.”
Switching from his usual Ukrainian to Russian in his remarks, he said: “Russian propagandists have a tough job on their hands today. For the first time, a Ukrainian president spoke to the parliament of Israel and, by video recording, to the people of Israel, a Ukrainian accused of Nazism by Moscow. “This very fact already proves that things are not as Moscow says.”
Zelenskiy made his latest appeal for Israeli help as Russian and Ukrainian forces fought for the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Sunday, where residents are trapped with little food, water and power.
Mariupol has suffered some of the heaviest bombardments since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Many of its 400,000 residents remain trapped with little if any food, water and power.
Russia called on Ukrainian forces in Mariupol to lay down their arms, saying a “terrible humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding.
It said defenders who did so were guaranteed safe passage out of the city and humanitarian corridors would be opened from 1000 Moscow time (0700 GMT) on Monday.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said over 7,000 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Sunday, more than half of them from Mariupol. She said the government planned to send nearly 50 buses to Mariupol on Monday for further evacuations.
Russia and Ukraine have made agreements throughout the war on humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians, but have accused each other of frequent violations of those.
Mariupol city council said on Telegram on Saturday that several thousand residents had been “deported” to Russia over the past week. Russian news agencies said buses had carried hundreds of refugees from Mariupol to Russia in recent days.
US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told CNN the deportation accounts were “disturbing” and “unconscionable” if true, but said Washington had not yet confirmed them.
Russian forces bombed an art school on Saturday in which 400 residents were sheltering, but the number of casualties was not yet known, Mariupol’s council said.