Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Israel grant his country control of the Alexander Courtyard in Jerusalem as the previous Israeli government had promised, in a letter delivered to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday.
Putin’s letter came barely a day after the Foreign Ministry in Moscow slammed Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for accusing Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, saying that Israel is using Ukraine to cover up for its own conflict with the Palestinians. The Russian Foreign Ministry also summoned Israeli Ambassador Alexander Ben Zvi for a reprimand on Sunday.
Transferring the ownership of the church land could cause diplomatic trouble for Israel at a time when its Western allies have been sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The Alexander Courtyard, also known as the Alexander Nevsky Church and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, is in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
According to Israel Today, Israel for weeks maintained a degree of neutrality over the Russia-Ukraine war. But last week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid joined the chorus of world voices accusing Putin and his forces of war crimes and even genocide.
“A large and powerful country has invaded a smaller neighbor without any justification. Once again, the ground is soaked with the blood of innocent civilians,” Lapid said while visiting Greece earlier this month. “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 foreign minister reiterated his charges while in Romania last week. On Sunday, the Kremlin summoned Israeli ambassador Alexander Ben Zvi to clarify Lapid’s remarks and to accuse Israel of trying to distract from its own conflict with the Palestinians.
“There was a poorly camouflaged attempt to take advantage of the situation in Ukraine to distract the international community’s attention from one of the oldest unresolved conflicts – the Palestinian-Israel one,” the Russian Foreign Ministry asserted.