Kremlin blames ‘external interference’ for anti-Israel airport riot

This frame grab taken from video footage posted on the Telegram channel @askrasul on October 29, 2023 shows protestors on the apron area of an airport in Makhachkala. A mob looking for Israelis and Jews overran an airport in Russia’s Caucasus republic of Dagestan on October 29, after rumours spread that a flight was arriving from Israel. (Photo by Telegram / @askrasul / AFP)

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(AFP) – The Kremlin on Monday blamed “external interference” for an anti-Israel riot that closed an airport in the Muslim-majority region of Dagestan the previous day.

The Kremlin announced Putin will gather his top advisers — including the defence minister and spy chiefs — later Monday to discuss the “West’s attempts to use the events in the Middle East to split Russian society.”

Russian police said it had arrested 60 people suspected of violently storming Makhachkala airport, seeking to attack Jewish passengers coming from Israel.

Dozens of protesters, many of them chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), broke through doors and barriers at the airport on Sunday, charging onto the runway.

The crowd of men tried to surround a plane that had landed from Tel Aviv, looking for Jews.

“Yesterday’s events at Makhachkala airport are, to a large extent, the result of external interference,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“Against the backdrop of TV footage showing the horrors of what is happening in the Gaza Strip — the deaths of people, children, old people, it is very easy for enemies to take advantage of and provoke the situation,” Peskov told reporters on Monday.

Prominent figures in Dagestan have spoken in support of Palestine and against Israel since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Hamas gunmen killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials, in the worst-ever attacks in the country’s history, with another 239 people taken hostage.

Israel has hit back with a relentless bombardment that has killed more than 8,300 people, more than half of them children, the Hamas-run health ministry says.

Peskov did not provide further details MOnday on the claims of “external interference”, though officials in Dagestan have pointed to Ukraine.

– ‘Significant damage’ –

Putin’s meeting with his top security chiefs comes over 20 months into his Ukraine campaign, which has plunged Moscow into isolation.

Russia regularly denounces unrest in the country on outside — usually Western — interference.

Sunday’s anti-Israel riot came four days after Putin gathered religious leaders, saying “inter-religious agreement is the basis of Russian statehood.”

A day after the riot, the airport said it had “significant damage” but resumed flights on Monday afternoon.

Flights to and from Tel Aviv will be temporarily redirected to other Russian cities, Russia‘s federal aviation agency said.

Five people were still in hospital on Monday, Dagestan’s health ministry said, including four police officers injured while trying to restore order.

Local authorities said they had identified more than 150 people who took part in the riot.

The mob descended on the airport tarmac after a flight landed from Tel Aviv.

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 indicated that a Red Wings flight out of Tel Aviv had landed at Makhachkala at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Sunday.

It was reportedly due to take off again for Moscow later.

– ‘Stab in the back’ –

The governor of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, vowed punishment for those responsible for the airport storming, and called for his people not to succumb to “provocations” over events in Israel and Gaza.

“All Dagestanis empathise with the suffering of victims by the actions of unrighteous people and politicians and pray for peace in Palestine,” he said.

“But what happened at our airport is outrageous and should receive the appropriate assessment from law enforcement.”

Melikov pointed the finger at Ukraine.

According to independent reports, Dagestan has sent proportionately more men to fight in Ukraine than many ethnic Russian regions.

Melikov claimed “initiators of this action are our enemies who organised it from Ukrainian territory.”

He called the riot a “stab in the back” of Dagestani soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

Melikov said the riots were instigated by posts on the social media platform Telegram from Utro Dagestan, run by “traitors” working from Ukraine.

Utro Dagestan — a Telegram channel with some 60,000 followers — had shared a post urging a mass gathering at the airport to prevent the arrival of “undesirable” passengers on the Red Wings flight.

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.

The airport violence prompted Israel to call on Russia to protect its citizens, while the United States condemned the “anti-Semitic protests”.

© Agence France-Presse

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