Tuesday, July 16, 2024

According to Russian state media and videos from the scene, a mob invaded an airport in southern Russia where a commercial flight from Tel Aviv had landed on Sunday night. This incident occurred after a series of anti-Israel protests in the region, which could potentially create friction for the Kremlin amidst its war in Ukraine.

The Russian authorities temporarily closed the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim region, and deployed riot police to the scene.

The Israeli government closely monitored the events and expected the Russian authorities to protect Israeli citizens and Jews. They also called for firm action against the rioters and the incitement targeting Jews and Israelis.

President Vladimir V. Putin considers interethnic and interreligious harmony as a key policy focus. Anti-Israel and antisemitic protests in the North Caucasus, where Mr. Putin fought his first war as Russian leader, could undermine this priority, especially during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

There were no immediate reports of arrests at the airport, and the exact nature of the incident remained unclear. Unverified videos circulated on social media, showing chaotic scenes where some individuals displayed Palestinian flags, held signs opposing the war in Gaza, and chanted “Allahu akbar.”

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti posted a video showing law enforcement officers assembling on the airport’s tarmac.

One verified video depicted a group of men, some displaying Palestinian flags, surrounding a parked airplane from the carrier Red Wings. A man in a yellow safety vest informed the rioters that there were no more passengers on the plane and identified himself as Muslim.

Another video showed the interior of an airplane on the tarmac, with a crew member announcing the presence of an angry mob outside and urging passengers to remain seated and avoid opening the plane’s doors.

Local health authorities reported injuries, but it was unclear whether they affected rioters, passengers, or police officers. Regional police initiated a criminal investigation into the riot and vowed to hold all participants accountable.

The Russian aviation authorities later confirmed that the unauthorized individuals had been cleared from the airport. The government of Dagestan declared the situation as “under control.”

Sergei Melikov, the head of Dagestan, condemned the rioters for their dishonorable behavior, including swearing at strangers, reaching into their pockets, and demanding proof of nationality.

Reports also emerged of anti-Israel protests across the North Caucasus, a volatile region in southern Russia. In Khasavyurt, Dagestan, dozens of people gathered in front of a hotel after social media rumors falsely claimed it was occupied by Jews. Additionally, approximately 200 individuals protested the potential arrival of Israeli refugees in the central square of Cherkessk, the capital of the Karachay-Cherkessia republic.

Dagestan’s local authorities attributed the unrest to “extremist” outlets operated by “Russian enemies.” Some of the protests received support from a Telegram channel linked to Ilya Ponomaryov, a former Russian lawmaker who fled to Ukraine and became an anti-Kremlin politician. Plans to “catch” passengers of the incoming flight were shared in the Telegram channel along with screenshots from the flight schedule. Local religious figures in the North Caucasus condemned the protests.

Russia has taken strong measures to suppress protests related to its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which it falsely characterized as a mission to eliminate “Nazis.”

Ukrainian officials swiftly used the events in Russia to highlight the deep-seated culture of hatred that the Kremlin has fostered over the years.

President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a statement calling the hate rhetoric routine for Russian propaganda on official television, emphasizing the need for collective efforts to combat hatred in order to oppose aggression and terrorism.

Reporting contributed by Aric Toler.

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