As fierce fighting continues to rage between Russian troops and rebels from the breakaway republic of Chechnya, the Israeli government has offered to send humanitarian aid to the besieged civilian population in the Chechen capital of Grozny.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry published an official statement on Monday expressing Israel’s “deep concern” about the crisis and said it is ready to extend humanitarian aid to Chechnya in coordination with Russian authorities.
Last year, Israel sent medical supplies and personnel to Zaire, where Rwandan refugees were fleeing a civil war raging in their country.
The statement said that Israel views the Chechen crisis as an internal matter of the Russian Federation. But it also called on Moscow to make every effort to settle the conflict peacefully. Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin said the aid effort would not affect Israeli relations with Russia.
“I don’t think it will create any tension in relations between Russia and ourselves,” he said. “We are of course worried, like everybody else, by seeing the scenes from Chechnya, and we hope it will not go on, so that people will not have to suffer from this dispute.”
Foreign Ministry officials said contacts are underway to explore the possibility of sending medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the war- ravaged area.
Russia’s ambassador to Israel, Alexander Bovin, has welcomed the Israeli gesture.
In the past few weeks, dozens of Jews fleeing Chechnya have been airlifted to Israel in an effort organized by the Jewish Agency.
A group of 16 people, including seven who escaped from Grozny under fire, were scheduled to arrive in Israel on Tuesday.
Chaim Chesler, the Jewish Agency representative in Russia, recently visited the Chechen border to observe agency efforts to help the Jewish refugees reach Nalchik, a city sorne 100 miles east of Grozny.