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Putin apologises to Israeli prime minister over Lavrov's Hitler comments

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he accepted apology
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on 5 May, 2022 (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has apologised after Moscow's foreign minister claimed Adolf Hitler "had Jewish blood", Israel's prime minister said.

Naftali Bennett said on Thursday he had accepted the apology during a call with Putin and thanked him for "clarifying his regard for the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the remarks in an interview on the Italian TV programme Zona Bianca on Sunday in an attempt to justify Moscow's portrayal of Ukraine as "Nazi".

Asked how Russia could claim that it was fighting to "de-Nazify" Ukraine when President Volodymyr Zelensky is himself Jewish, Lavrov said: "I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood. [Zelensky being Jewish] means absolutely nothing. Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews."

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Israel reacted furiously to the initial comments made by Lavrov, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid describing them as "an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error".

Amid the strain in ties, Haaretz reported on Tuesday that officials in Israel were looking to expand assistance to Ukraine, including supplies of defensive military equipment.

Zelensky has repeatedly likened Russia's invasion to the Nazi army occupying Europe during the Second World War, and has appealed to Israel for assistance - invoking the memory of the Holocaust.

While Israel has condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, until recently it had been reluctant to provide arms and military equipment to the country over concerns it may jeopardise its relationship with Moscow in Syria, where thousands of Russian troops are stationed.

Russia has given Israel a free hand to strike Iranian targets in Syria, and the two countries communicate via a hotline to avoid their militaries coming into conflict.

In their call on Thursday, Putin and Bennett also discussed the evacuation of civilians from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. According to the Kremlin, Putin said the Russian military was ready to ensure the safe exit of civilians from the plant.

Bennett had attempted to serve as a mediator in the early weeks of the invasion, but Israel's top diplomat in the US said last month that the premier was no longer playing a leading role to end the conflict.

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