Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to address Israel lawmakers

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a video address in Kyiv, on March 19, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has emphasised his Judaism in seeking to rally Jewish and Israeli support for his country during the Russian invasion, was due to address Israel's Parliament on Sunday (March 20).

In an international tour via videoconference, Mr Zelensky has spoken to several foreign legislatures since the invasion launched on Feb 24, including the United States Congress, Britain's House of Commons, and Germany's Bundestag.

A spokesman for the Knesset, Israel's legislature, told AFP that Mr Zelensky's speech was scheduled for 6pm (midnight on Monday, Singapore time), as the humanitarian situation deteriorates in besieged Ukrainian cities under relentless Russian bombardment.

Mr Zelensky will address lawmakers in a country where more than one million of its 9.4 million residents have roots in the former Soviet Union.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government has tried to maintain neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, citing Israel's warm ties with both countries and the need to preserve security coordination with Russian troops operating in Syria.

But several demonstrations have been held in Israel to condemn the invasion, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announced that the municipality will screen Mr Zelensky's speech live in the heart of the city.

While walking a cautious diplomatic line, Mr Bennett has sought to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, holding regular phone calls with Mr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, including a three-hour meeting with Mr Putin at the Kremlin on March 5.

Some Ukrainian officials have voiced criticism over Israel's efforts at neutrality, while thanking Mr Bennett for his mediation efforts.

Israel has provided humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, but so far ruled out sending military hardware to the embattled country.

The Jewish state has also not joined Western sanctions against Russia.

Mr Roman Abramovich, a prominent oligarch allegedly close to Mr Putin who owns Chelsea Football Club and has been hit by sanctions, holds Israeli citizenship and reportedly visited the country last week.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who, unlike Mr Bennett, has explicitly condemned the invasion, pledged that Israel "will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries".

Nearly 14,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Israel since the war began.

The authorities have previously estimated that 100,000 people from both Ukraine and Russia with Jewish lineage who are entitled to Israeli citizenship under the so-called "law of return" may seek to resettle in Israel as a result of the conflict.

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