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Ukraine foreign minister apologises after accusing Israel's El Al of accepting Russian payments

Airline denied Dmytro Kuleba's claim, saying Mir payments have been banned since 28 February
A picture taken on February 20, 2022 shows an Israeli Airlines El Al Boeing 737 at the tarmac in Israel's Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv (AFP)

Ukraine's foreign minister has apologised after accusing Israel's flag-carrier airline El Al of continuing to accept payments through Russia's Mir payment system - an allegation denied by the company.

Posting a picture of El Al's payment page on Twitter on Monday, Dmytro Kuleba said the use of the payment system was "immoral and a blow to Ukrainian-Israeli relations".

"While the world sanctions Russia for its barbaric atrocities in Ukraine, some prefer to make money soaked in Ukrainian blood," he wrote.

"Here is [El Al] accepting payments in Russian banking system ‘Mir’ designed to evade sanctions."

However, El Al said it had banned Mir payments since 28 February. "We are sorry that a simple check was not made with us before the misleading tweet, as the facts differ in the purpose of the change," it said in a statement.

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Mir was developed following the sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its takeover of Crimea and has processed most domestic payments in Russia since then.

On Tuesday, Kuleba publicly apologised for making the accusation.

“Indeed, the ‘Mir’ payment button remained on the website, but the use of it was blocked,” he tweeted.

“I am grateful to El Al for its important humanitarian operations and convey my apologies.”

Balancing act

The spat has again highlighted the difficulty Israel faces in trying to walk a tightrope in its relationship with both Russia and Ukraine.

The country has largely attempted to avoid antagonising Russia, a longtime ally, over its invasion of Ukraine and has instead attempted to present itself as a possible mediator between the two sides.

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On Saturday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met for three hours with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.

Bennett said he had a "moral obligation" to try and stem the fighting in Ukraine. Hundreds of Jews from the country have been evacuated to Israel since the violence began.

"Even if the chance is not great - as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability - I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort," he said on Sunday, prior to his weekly cabinet meeting.

Unlike his Western allies, Bennett has been cautious not to criticise Russia's actions in too forceful terms.

Part of this is thought to stem from Israel's need to coordinate with Russia when launching attacks on Syria.

Israel regularly launches airstrikes against its northern neighbour, claiming to be targeting groups affiliated with arch-rival Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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