While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stopped short of accusing Russia of war crimes over the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, Israel's foreign minister explicitly said on Tuesday that "Russian forces committed war crimes."
Bennett, during an interview on Kan public broadcaster, was asked whether he "calls the massacre in Bucha a war crime" or whether "he sees Russia as responsible." The prime minister replied: "We are of course shocked by the terrible sights at Bucha – awful scenes – and we strongly condemn them. The suffering of Ukrainian citizens is immense, and we're doing everything we can to assist."
Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, meanwhile, speaking in English during a visit to Athens, said: "The images and testimony from Ukraine are horrific. Russian forces committed war crimes against a defenseless civilian population. I strongly condemn these war crimes."
The discovery of the slain civilians, many of them bound, after the withdrawal of Russian forces from Bucha has stirred a global outcry. Kyiv deemed them evidence of genocide. Moscow has denied responsibility and accused Ukraine of trying to smear it.
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that the killings were no random act of a rogue unit but part of a deliberate Russian campaign to commit atrocities.
Israel has been restrained in its criticism of Russia during the Ukraine crisis, citing Bennett's efforts to broker peace. Israel also wants to keep channels open to the Russian military in Syria, where it often mounts air strikes on Iranian assets.
Bennett has never condemned Russia, leaving the job to Foreign Minister Lapid instead. While Israel supported a United Nation General Assembly resolution condemning Moscow, it declined to back a similar motion placed before the Security Council.
Lapid had earlier on Sunday condemned the killings in the Kyiv suburb.
"It is impossible to remain indifferent in the face of the horrific images from the city of Bucha near Kyiv, from after the Russian army left," Lapid tweeted. "Intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime and I strongly condemn it."
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine will become a “‘big Israel' with its own face,” indicating that his country intends to emulate the Israeli security state in the wake of Russia’s invasion.