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MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday his country’s army was “still ready” to allow safe passage for civilians trapped at Mariupol’s steel plant, the Kremlin said.

The Russian army had on Wednesday announced a three-day ceasefire at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol in south-eastern Ukraine, saying it would allow civilians to leave.

But a commander of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, Svyatoslav Palamar, on Thursday accused Russia of breaking its promise.

Speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett later Thursday, Putin said civilians could still be allowed to leave the besieged plant but Ukrainian troops must lay down their arms.

“The Russian military is still ready to ensure the safe exit of civilians,” Putin told the Israeli prime minister, the Kremlin said.

“As for the militants remaining at Azovstal, the Kyiv authorities must give them an order to lay down their arms.”

Putin and Bennett spoke amid raging tensions after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking about Ukraine, suggested that Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood”.

Russia ‘violated’ promised truce at Mariupol plant: Ukrainian commander

The two leaders discussed “historic memory”, the Holocaust and expressed interest in developing ties between their two countries, the Kremlin said.

“Mutual interest was expressed in the further development of friendly Russian-Israeli relations and the maintenance of useful contacts between the leadership of the two countries,” the Kremlin said.

Putin stressed that of the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust “40 percent were citizens of the USSR.”

Bennett for his part “noted the decisive contribution of the Red Army to victory over Nazism,” the Kremlin said.

Since Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, Israel has sought to keep a delicate balance between Moscow and Kyiv but remarks by Lavrov caused an uproar in the country.

In an interview to Italy’s Mediaset released last Sunday, Russia’s top diplomat said: “I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood”.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned Lavrov’s remarks as “a terrible historical error.”

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