Anti-Israel Protest Shuts Down Dagestan Airport; Security Measures Strengthened

On Sunday, a large group of protesters against Israel invaded an airport in Dagestan, a region in Russia with a majority Muslim population, just as an aircraft from Israel had landed. This led to the security personnel shutting down the airport and dispersing the crowd. Local officials reported that twenty individuals were hurt before the demonstration at Makhachkala airport was brought under control. The passengers aboard the plane were unharmed, according to security officials. 


This disturbance is one of many anti-Israel events in the North Caucasus, triggered by Israel's conflict with Hamas militants in Gaza. Early Monday, the government of Dagestan announced that it was ramping up security throughout the republic, which has a population of around 3 million. This unrest in an area where Russian security forces previously battled an Islamist rebellion could present another hurdle for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is currently engaged in a war in Ukraine and has dealt with an attempted revolt this year. 

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Footage from Makhachkala airport provided by media depicted the demonstrators, primarily young males, brandishing Palestinian flags, shattering glass doors, and chanting "Allahu Akbar" or "God is Greatest" as they stormed through the airport. Another faction was observed attempting to overturn a patrol vehicle. The Russian Aviation Authority shut down the airport pending completion of security inspections. No arrests were reported immediately, but a criminal investigation into the event was initiated by Russia's federal investigative agency. Sergei Melikov, Dagestan's leader, condemned the incident as a severe breach of law, even as Dagestanis "sympathize with the victims of unjust actions and politicians and pray for peace in Palestine". 

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He stated on Telegram that "there is no bravery in mobbing unarmed individuals who have not committed any prohibited acts". Leaders in two other northern Caucasus regions urged for peace, as did Dagestan's chief Muslim cleric or mufti. Following recent violent incidents against Israeli and Jewish targets, Israel called on Russian authorities to safeguard Israelis and Jews within their jurisdictions. In recent days, a Jewish center being built in Nalchik, the capital of the neighboring Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was set ablaze according to emergency services. Over the weekend, small anti-Israeli gatherings were reported on social media in Dagestan and throughout the North Caucasus in southern Russia. These reports could not be independently confirmed by Reuters. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attributed these events to Russia's "pervasive culture of animosity towards other nations, which is promoted by state television, commentators, and authorities". The Kremlin did not immediately respond. Despite trying to keep lines of communication open with all parties in the Israel-Hamas conflict, Russia has upset Israeli officials by extending an invitation to a Hamas delegation to visit Moscow. On Sunday, Israel's foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador.

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