By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
JERUSALEM/KYIV/MOSCOW (Worthy News) – With his nation observing the Sabbath, Israel’s prime minister rushed to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to end Europe’s worst conflict since World War Two.
The office of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that their meeting lasted about three hours and took place “in coordination and with the blessing of the U.S. administration.”
Bennett, an observant religious Jew, flew to Moscow during the Sabbath when much of Israel came to a standstill, underlining the urgent nature of his mission. The nearly three-hour conversation with Putin included concerns about the safety of Ukraine’s Jewish population, Bennett’s office said.
They also discussed Iran’s nuclear program after revelations that U.S. President Joe Biden may sign up to what whistleblowers view as a “dangerous deal,” strengthening Tehran’s ability to develop atomic weapons.
Saturday’s meeting followed Moscow’s confirmation that Israel offered to mediate in the Ukraine-Russia war. Kyiv reportedly asked Jerusalem to host the peace talks.
President Putin said during an earlier call with the Israeli prime minister he was “ready for negotiations,” perhaps in the Jewish capital, Israeli sources confirmed.
CAUGHT IN MIDDLE
Throughout the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Israel has found itself caught between powerful opposing forces, analysts say.
Israel’s most important ally, the U.S., and pro-Western Ukraine, with a sizeable Jewish population, have pushed Israel to side firmly with the Ukrainians.
Yet Bennett’s government is reportedly concerned that taking sides would jeopardize its relationship with Russia, allowing Israel to bomb Iranian positions in Syria.
Saturday’s talks appeared aimed at finding a way to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine while boosting the security of Israel and allies in the Middle East.
Following his meeting with Putin, Bennett was due in Berlin to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who pledged military support for Ukraine, despite his country’s troubled World War Two history.
Israeli media said the Bennet-Putin meeting began Saturday afternoon, after Bennett flew to Moscow secretly, in a private jet of the Israeli secret service Mossad.
TRAVELING RELIGIOUS JEWS
He was accompanied by officials including Israel’s Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin who, like the prime minister, is a religious Jew usually not traveling on the Sabbath.
Bennett then spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as part of his growing role as a mediator in a war that raged Saturday with Russian shelling on several cities.
Despite hopes of peace negotiations in Jerusalem, there was no sign of easing tensions in Ukraine, where a planned mass evacuation of civilians from Mariupol was halted.
Local authorities said Russia continued shelling the critical southern city while heavy bombardments were reported in Irpin – a town on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
Amid the airstrikes, President Zelensky repeated his calls for a no-fly zone – but Western leaders said they don’t want to escalate the situation into a wider conflict.
Putin warned he would regard any no-fly zone over Ukraine “as an act of war” that would lead to an armed confrontation between the U.S.-led NATO military alliance and Russia.
NUCLEAR SUPERPOWERS CONFRONTATION?
As tensions mount between nuclear superpowers the United States and Russia, payment giants Mastercard and Visa said they were suspending operations in Russia.
The move added to hardship for Russians facing a banking and cash crisis linked to Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion.
In Russia, it has become increasingly difficult for journalists to report, with major Western media being forced to seize broadcasting and distributing news under new war-era legislation.
Italian state broadcaster RAI was among the latest networks saying Saturday it suspended operations in Russia to “protect the safety” of its reporters.
Moscow introduced a law threatening prison terms of up to 15 years for spreading what the government terms “fake news.”
Germany’s top public broadcasters ARD and ZDF also said Saturday they had suspended coverage out of their respective Moscow studios “for the time being.” They joined a growing number of international media outlets, including Britain’s BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and the Bloomberg News agency, to halt reporting in Russia.
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