Zelensky asks Israel - why not send weapons to Ukraine?

Volodymyr Zelensky's speech is broadcasted to the Knesset in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 20, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

LVIV (REUTERS, AFP) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky chided Israel in an address to its Parliament on Sunday (March 20), asking why it was not providing missile defences to his country or sanctioning Russia over its invasion.  

Replying to Zelenski, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was non-committal, saying in a statement that Israel, which has sent a field hospital and other humanitarian aid to Ukraine, would continue to assist its people "as much as we can".  

A mediator in the Ukraine-Russia crisis, Israel has condemned the Russian invasion.

But it has been wary of straining relations with Moscow, a powerbroker in neighbouring Syria where Israeli forces frequently attack pro-Iranian militia.  

"Everybody knows that your missile defence systems are the best… and that you can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians, of Ukrainian Jews," Mr Zelensky, who is Jewish himself, told the Knesset in a video call.  

"We can ask why we can’t receive weapons from you, why Israel has not imposed powerful sanctions on Russia or is not putting pressure on Russian business," he said in the address, one of several he has made to foreign legislatures.  

He mentioned Israel’s Iron Dome system, often used to intercept rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza.  

"Either way, the choice is yours to make, brothers and sisters, and you must then live with your answer, the people of Israel," Mr Zelensky said.  

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin two weeks ago in Moscow and has spoken frequently with him and Zelensky, since then, was among the more than 100 of the parliament’s 120 members who took part in the video call.  

He made no immediate comment after the Ukrainian leader spoke.  

In his address, Mr Zelensky drew a comparison between the Russian offensive and Nazi Germany’s plan to exterminate European Jews during World War II.  

"Listen to what is being said now in Moscow, listen to how they are saying those words again: the final solution. But this time in relation to us, to the Ukrainian question," he said.  

Mr Zelensky cited no evidence in making that allegation or identify who might have used the term.

Mr Putin has used an expression which means "final decision/final resolution" once in the past 30 days, according to Reuters monitoring of his remarks, but not in a context that carried the same resonance or meaning as the Nazi terminology.  

Mr Zelensky’s reference drew condemnation from Yad Vashem, 
Israel’s memorial in Jerusalem to the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany in World War II.

It said such "irresponsible statements" trivialised the historical facts of the Holocaust. 

Speaking in his daily video appeal to Ukrainians later, Mr Zelensky said Israel was undertaking many efforts to arrange top-level peace talks between Ukraine and Russia and suggested they might take place in Jerusalem.

He said Mr 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 Mr Zelensky, 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."

Mr Zelensky 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." 

Separately, Mr Zelensky on Sunday renewed his plea for talks with his Russian counterpart, taking to US television to say negotiations were the only way to "end this war."

He stressed that he and Mr Putin were the only principles able to thrash out a deal to stop the fighting, now in its fourth week.  

But he signalled he would lay down red lines against ceding Ukrainian territory, including two pro-Moscow breakaway regions.  

"I’m ready for negotiations with him," Mr Zelensky told CNN show "Fareed Zakaria GPS." "I think without negotiations we cannot end this war," the Ukrainian leader said through a translator.  

The reiteration of Mr Zelensky’s call for peace talks came as he and other Ukrainians accused Russia of committing war crimes after authorities said the invading forces had bombed a school sheltering some 400 people in the besieged city of Mariupol.  

"Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us," said Mr Zelensky.  

The leader, who has emerged as a national hero for his very public stance against Mr Putin and his forces, has spoken of Ukrainians’ fierce resistance to the invasion and told Russia that several thousand of its soldiers have died in battle so far.  

"If there is just one per cent chance for us to stop this war, I think that we need to take this chance... to have the possibility of negotiating, the possibility of talking to Putin," he said.

"Dialogue is the only way out," and "I think it’s just the two of us, me and Putin, who can make an agreement on this," Mr Zelensky said. "If these attempts fail, that would mean that this is a third world war."

Mr Zelensky repeatedly has warned of the potential for the Russia-Ukraine conflict to mushroom into an all-out global war. 

Last month, in a move seen as precipitating the conflict, Mr Putin recognised two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk, as independent entities, and debate has simmered about whether Mr Zelensky might concede the regions as a way to bring the war to a close.

But on Sunday Mr Zelensky stood defiant: "You cannot just demand from Ukraine to recognize some territories as independent republics," he told CNN.

"These compromises are simply wrong," he added. "We have to come up with a model where Ukraine will not lose its sovereignty, it’s territorial integrity."

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