Hundreds stormed an airport in Russia's Dagestan, looking for passengers from Israel

A crowd swarms the airfield of an airport in Makhachkala, in the Dagestan region of Russia, on Sunday night.

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A crowd swarms the airfield of an airport in Makhachkala, in the Dagestan region of Russia, on Sunday night.

AP

Russian police briefly closed an airport in the Dagestan region after hundreds of people stormed the grounds on Sunday, searching for a plane carrying passengers arriving from Tel Aviv.

At least 20 people were injured at the airport in Makhachkala, including nine police officers, the local interior ministry said in a statement posted to Telegram. Two people were hospitalized in grave condition.

Roughly 60 people were arrested, with local officials vowing to open a criminal investigation to hold all rioters responsible. The airport had fully reopened as of Monday, but flights from Tel Aviv are to be temporarily rerouted to other cities, the Russian Aviation authority reported.

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Several videos posted to social media on Sunday appear to show crowds surrounding planes on the tarmac. Some can be seen carrying Palestinian flags, shouting anti-Semitic phrases and asking arriving passengers to show their passports to verify their nationality, according to translations from news outlets like the Associated Press.

In one video, the mob appears to confront an airport worker near a plane from the Russian operator Red Wings. The worker tells them the plane is empty and identifies himself as Muslim, The New York Times reported.

In another, which appeared to be recorded inside the plane, a steward can be heard telling passengers to remain calm and to keep aircraft doors closed. “There is an angry crowd,” the voice says. “It’s quite possible that we will get caught.”

The riot unfolded as the Israeli military intensified ground operations in Gaza, part of its so-called “second phase” of the war with the militant group Hamas.

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As the death toll from the conflict continued to rise, tens of thousands of people gathered in New York City, London, Madrid, Casablanca, Istanbul, Islamabad and other cities worldwide to take part in pro-Palestinian protests, calling for a cease-fire.

Russian leaders, too, have called for a mediated end to the conflict, while carefully directing criticism towards both sides of the conflict. For the Kremlin, fighting in the Mideast could also distract from Russia’s own war in Ukraine.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Sunday that Israel “expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens and Jews, wherever they may be.”

Dagestan, an ethnically diverse, predominantly Muslim region, contains a small Jewish population.

Messages from local government leaders repeatedly expressed support for the Palestinians while still calling for calm.

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“All Dagestanis empathize with the suffering of victims of the actions of unrighteous people and politicians and pray for peace in Palestine,” said Sergey Melikov, head of the Dagestan Republic, in a post on Telegram. “But what happened at our airport is outrageous and should receive an appropriate assessment from law enforcement agencies.”

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy pointed to the riots as another example of Russia’s aggressive brand of nationalism.

“This is not an isolated incident in Makhachkala, but rather part of Russia’s widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits, and authorities,” Zelenskyy wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

NPR’s Becky Sullivan contributed reporting.

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