Middle East Crisis
Police take control of Russia’s Dagestan airport after anti-Israeli protests
Oct 30 (Reuters) - Russian police have taken over an airport in the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region and arrested 60 people after hundreds of anti-Israel protesters stormed the facility on Sunday when a plane from Israel arrived, the interior ministry said on Monday.
Videos obtained by Reuters from the airport at Makhachkala, the regional capital, showed the protesters, mostly young men, waving Palestinian flags, breaking down glass doors and running through the airport on Sunday evening shouting “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Greatest”.
Another group was seen trying to topple over a patrol truck.
Twenty people were wounded at the airport before security forces contained the unrest, local authorities said. The passengers on the plane were safe, security forces told Reuters.
The unrest followed several other anti-Israel incidents in recent days in Russia’s North Caucasus region in response to Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza.
The local Dagestani government said earlier that it was strengthening security measures across the republic, which is home to about 3 million people.
The unrest in the region, where Russian security forces once fought an Islamist insurgency, is a headache for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is waging a war in Ukraine and is keen to maintain stability at home ahead of an expected presidential election next year.
The Russian Aviation Authority has closed the airport for flights until it completes security checks.
The interior ministry, in its statement, said the identity of 150 of what it called the most active protesters had been identified. It said the authorities were looking to track down everyone involved.
“At present, the airport is fully under the control of law enforcement agencies,” the ministry said.
Sergei Melikov, the head of Dagestan, said the incident was a gross violation of the law, even as Dagestanis “empathise with the suffering of victims of the actions of unrighteous people and politicians, and pray for peace in Palestine”.
“There is no courage in waiting as a mob for unarmed people who have not done anything forbidden,” Melikov said on the Telegram messaging app.
Regional leaders in two other areas of the northern Caucasus called for calm. A similar appeal was issued by Dagestan’s chief Muslim cleric, or mufti.
Israel 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.
There have also been reports on social media of small anti-Israeli gatherings over the weekend in Dagestan and across the North Caucasus in Russia’s south. Reuters could not independently verify those reports.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy blamed the events on Russia’s “widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits, and authorities”. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
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.
(Reporting by Reuters. Writing by Andrew Osborn, Lidia Kelly, Dan Williams, Ron Popeski Editing by Hugh Lawson and Lisa Shumaker and Miral Fahmy)