Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a phone call on Thursday that Russia was still ready to provide safe passage for civilians from the besieged Azovstal steel works in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, the Kremlin said.
It said Putin told Bennett in a “thorough exchange of views on the situation in Ukraine” that Kyiv should order Ukrainian fighters holed up in the vast Azovstal plant to put down their weapons.
Ukrainian defenders trapped at the site have clung on desperately for weeks, while some civilians have made it to safety through humanitarian corridors but others remain inside.
The Kremlin earlier denied that Russian forces were storming the plant, referring to an April 21 order from Putin that they should seal it off but not venture inside its labyrinth of underground tunnels.
The statement made no direct reference to a huge diplomatic row that broke out earlier this week when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested in a television interview that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had Jewish origins. Israel called that an unforgivable falsehood about the Holocaust, and demanded an apology.
The Kremlin said Putin and Bennett, looking forward to the May 9 anniversary when Russia commemorates victory over the Nazis in World War Two, “emphasized the special significance of this date for the peoples of both countries, who carefully preserve the historical truth about the events of those years and honor the memory of all the fallen, including victims of the Holocaust.”