Israel warns citizens to leave northern Caucasus after antisemitic mob storms Dagestan airport

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Key points

  • Israel has warned its citizens to leave the northern Caucasus after an antisemitic mob stormed an airport in Russia’s Dagestan region.
  • The mob converged after a Telegram message urged Dagestanis to meet the “uninvited guests” to turn the plane back to Tel Aviv.
  • Rabbi Alexander Boroda, the president of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, called for a tough response.
  • Boroda said that the riot had “undermined the basic foundations of our multi-cultural” state of Russia.
  • More than 20 people were wounded, with two in critical condition. Police made 60 arrests and identified 150 of the most active participants.

Jerusalem: Israel has warned its citizens to leave the northern Caucasus after a mob stormed an airport in Russia’s Dagestan region when a flight from Israel landed there.

Hundreds of men, some carrying banners with antisemitic slogans, rushed onto the tarmac of the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim region, on Sunday night (local time), looking for Israeli passengers on the flight from Tel Aviv, according to Russian news reports.

People in the crowd walk shouting antisemitic slogans at an airfield of the airport in Makhachkala, Russia. Credit: AP

The attack seemed to be partly fuelled by anger at Israel’s actions in Gaza, where it has been at war with Hamas following a deadly incursion by the militant group earlier this month. Several people in the mob were waving Palestinian flags.

One group was seen trying to overturn a police patrol truck, while another video showed rioters on the tarmac surrounding a Red Wings aircraft which had arrived from Tel Aviv.

One placard brandished by rioters in an unverified social media post said: “There is no place for child killers in Dagestan.”

Another said: “We are against Jewish refugees.”

More than 20 people were wounded, with two in critical condition, and police made 60 arrests. Police also said they had identified 150 of the most active participants.

Israel raised its travel warning level to 4, the highest level, calling on citizens to avoid all travel to Dagestan and neighbouring regions, and for those who are there to leave as soon as possible.

A senior Russian Rabbi on Monday urged the Kremlin to ensure that rioters were harshly punished.

Shmuel, 26, an Israeli citizen and one of the passengers, told Israeli publication Ynet that police had got passengers onto a bus which was then chased around the airport by rioters.

The Head of the Republic of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, gestures while speaking to the media in Makhachkala, Russia. Credit: AP

“The bus kept turning around…and people were chasing it and throwing stones. I put my suitcase against the window,” he said.

At one point, he said the passengers had been questioned by locals about their religion.

“They came inside, went from person to person, and asked if they were a Muslim or a Jew. I said I was a Muslim, because I was scared to death. Fortunately, they believed me and continued on,” he said.

It was unclear in what circumstances that questioning took place with another passenger telling the Mediazona news website that a small group of locals had been shown the passengers’ documents in an airport building where the passengers were being held at the time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Chief Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar and President of the Federation of Jewish Communities Alexander Boroda at the Kremlin in January.Credit: AP

Rabbi Alexander Boroda, the president of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, called for a tough response.

In a statement, Boroda said that the riot had “undermined the basic foundations of our multi-cultural and multi-national state” and that anti-Israeli sentiment fuelled by events in the Middle East had become open aggression towards Russian Jews.

“Moreover, we see that local authorities were not prepared for such incidents and allowed large-scale violations of law and order and mass demonstrations with open threats to Jews and Israelis,” Boroda said.

“I call on the country’s leadership and law enforcement agencies to find and punish all the organisers and participants of these anti-Semitic actions in the strictest possible manner.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin called a meeting of security and law enforcement officials on Monday, after the mob stormed the airport.

The crowd at the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim region of Dagestan, in Russia.

The mob converged on the airport after a message on the Telegram messaging app urged Dagestanis to meet the “uninvited guests” in “adult fashion” and to get the plane and its passengers to turn around and fly somewhere else.

The message, posted on the “Utro Dagestan” Telegram channel, did not use the word “Jew” but referred to the plane’s passengers as being “unclean”.

“We need to wait for them on the street outside the airport and catch them before they go their separate ways,” the message said.

Telegram founder Pavel Durov said his service was banning the channel for calling for violence, something he said violated Telegram’s rules and those of “the entire civilised world.”

Israel’s ambassador to Russia was cited by the RIA news agency as saying that no Israeli citizens had been hurt in the unrest and that they had all been safely evacuated amid unconfirmed reports they had been taken to a military base before being flown out of the region.

Makhachkala airport resumed normal operations on Monday afternoon, Russia’s aviation authority said, but it announced that flights from Israel would temporarily be re-directed to other cities in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin would hold a meeting later on Monday to discuss how the West is trying to use the crisis in the Middle East to divide Russian society.

The unrest in Dagestan, where Russian security forces once fought an Islamist insurgency, is a headache for Putin, who is waging a war in Ukraine and is keen to maintain stability at home ahead of an expected presidential election next year.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the violence was the result of “outside influence” and that “ill-wishers” had used images of suffering in Gaza to stir people up. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, accused Ukraine of a “direct and key role” in preparing the “provocation”.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters that Kyiv had “nothing to do” with the unrest.

Zakharova referred to online resources linked to former Russian lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov, who is based in Ukraine as a self-styled anti-Kremlin partisan. Ponomaryov said that he used to be an investor in the Utro Dagestan Telegram channel but no longer had any connection to it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday blamed the events on what he called Russia’s “widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits, and authorities”.

The unrest followed several other anti-Semitic incidents in recent days in Russia’s North Caucasus region in response to Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza. Israel has urged Russian authorities to protect Israelis and Jews in their jurisdictions.

In the past few days, a Jewish centre under construction in Nalchik, the capital of the nearby Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was set on fire, emergency officials said.

Russia, which wants an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and backs a two-state solution, has tried to maintain contact with all sides in the Israel-Hamas conflict, but has angered Israeli authorities by inviting a Hamas delegation to Moscow. Israel’s foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador on Sunday.

AP, Reuters

More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict

  • Cascading violence: Tremors from the Hamas attacks and Israel’s response have reached far beyond the border. But what would all-out war in the Middle East look like?
  • The human cost: Hamas’ massacre in Israel has traumatised – and hardened – survivors. And in Gaza, neighbourhoods have become ghost cities.
  • “Hamas metro”: Inside the labyrinthine network of underground tunnels, which the Palestinian militant group has commanded beneath war-ravaged Gaza for 16 years. The covert corridors have long provided essential channels for the movement of weapons and armed combatants.
  • What is Hezbollah?: As fears of the conflict expanding beyond Israel and Hamas steadily rise, all eyes are on the militant group and political party that controls southern Lebanon and has been designated internationally as a terrorist group. How did it form and what does Iran have to do with it?

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