MOSCOW – A mob looking for Israelis and Jews overran an airport in Russia’s Caucasus republic of Dagestan on Sunday, after rumours spread that a flight was arriving from Israel.
The violence in the mostly Muslim region, which comes as war rages between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, prompted Israel to call on Russia to protect its citizens, while the United States condemned the “anti-Semitic protests”.
The governor of Dagestan promised that those responsible for the incident would be punished, and the republic’s interior ministry said later that 60 people had been arrested in the unrest.
“More than 150 active participants in the unrest have been identified, 60 of them have been arrested,” the ministry said in a statement early Monday.
Dozens of protesters, many of them chanting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest), broke through doors and barriers at Makhachkala airport, with some charging onto the runway, according to videos posted on social media and Russia’s RT and Izvestia media.
Russia’s aviation agency Rosaviatsiya announced shortly afterwards that it had closed the airport to incoming and outgoing flights and that security forces had arrived.
“The situation is under control,” local authorities said on Telegram.
A statement from the republic’s health ministry said there had been injuries, but did not elaborate on how many or who had been hurt.
Late on Sunday, Rosaviatsiya announced that the airport had been “freed” from the mob and would remain closed until November 6.
Several local Telegram channels showed photos and videos of dozens of men waiting outside the airport to stop cars.
One protester appeared in the videos holding a sign that read “Child killers have no place in Dagestan”.
Other videos showed a crowd inside an airport terminal trying to break down doors as staff members tried to deter them.
Flight tracking website Flightradar24 indicated that a Red Wings flight out of Tel Aviv had landed at Makhachkala at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT).
The independent Russian media outlet Sota said it was a transiting flight that had been due to take off again for Moscow two hours later.
Hamas militants stormed across the Gaza border on October 7 in the deadliest attack in Israel’s history, indiscriminately killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 230 others, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has retaliated by relentlessly bombing Gaza, killing more than 8,000 people, half of them children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Israel reaches out to Russia
A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s office on Sunday evening said: “Israel expects the Russian authorities to protect all Israeli citizens and all Jews, and to act decisively against the rioters and against incitement to violence against Jews and Israelis.”
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said on X, formerly Twitter: “The United States vigorously condemns the antisemitic protests in Dagestan, Russia.
“The US unequivocally stands with the entire Jewish community as we witness a worldwide surge in antisemitism.”
Earlier Sunday, Akhmed Dudayev, information minister in Dagestan’s neighbour Chechnya, warned on Telegram against “provocations” and called for calm in the face of rising tensions in the Caucasus.
The Dagestan government posted on Telegram appealing to those involved to stop their “illegal acts” despite their anger over the “inhumane massacre of a civilian population — the Palestinian people”.
“At the same time, we urge residents of the republic not to succumb to provocations of destructive groups and not to create panic in society.”
Sergei Melikov, the republic’s governor, posted on Telegram later Sunday saying: “All Dagestanis empathise with the suffering of victims by the actions of unrighteous people and politicians and pray for peace in Palestine.
“But what happened at our airport is outrageous and should receive the appropriate assessment from law enforcement. This will be done.”
‘Culture of Hatred’
Dagestan and Chechnya are mainly Muslim areas in a region that has witnessed years of violent tension with the central Russian authorities.
The RIA Novosti news agency reported on Sunday that a Jewish centre in another North Caucasus republic — Kabardino-Balkaria — had been set on fire in the city of Nalchik.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, expressing concern at the “appalling” videos posted on social media, said on X that it was not an isolated incident.
It was, he said, “part of Russia’s widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits and authorities”.
Dagestan is Russia’s southernmost territory and one of its poorest regions.
It has taken an active part in the Ukraine offensive — with independent reports showing it has sent proportionally more men to Ukraine than many more ethnically Russian regions.
In his statement, Melikov said the mob had betrayed Dagestanis who were “representing the republic with dignity” while fighting in Ukraine.
- the article first appeared on AFP