The crowd of hundreds broke through security barriers and poured out onto the airfield and runway of Makhachkala airport on Sunday evening, with videos on social media showing many young men among the protesters carrying Palestinian flags.
Investigators have identified 150 people who were the most active protesters, the RIA news agency reported early on Monday morning. Nine police officers sustained injuries in the incident, two of whom were being treated in hospital, the authorities said.
Russian media showed one group attempting to approach an aircraft on the runway after the identification number on the tail of the plane indicated it had arrived from Israel.
Local authorities said 20 people were injured before airport security contained the protest and resumed control of the airfield, adding that no passengers on the plane from Israel were harmed.
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) October 29, 2023
The unrest followed several other anti-Israel incidents in the North Caucasus triggered by Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza, which has killed over 8,000 Palestinians, with 40 per cent of the deaths being children.
More than 1,400 people have been killed on the Israeli side, the majority of them civilians during Hamas’s initial terror attack on southern Israel on 7 October.
Videos emerging from the incident show the protesters, mostly young men, waving Palestinian flags and breaking down glass doors to enter the airport
Antisemitic slogans were reportedly heard being yelled and some in the crowd aggressively examined the passports of arriving passengers.
The Russian Aviation Authority closed the airport until it completed security checks and diverted flights, while investigation agencies ordered a criminal probe into the incident.
Sergei Melikov, the head of Muslim-majority 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," Mr Melikov said on the Telegram messaging app.
Protesters stormed the runway
In the video the steward of one of the flights that arrived in Makhachkala asks passengers to urgently return back to the plane. pic.twitter.com/HXKfO7Wnhi
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) October 29, 2023
The Russian aviation authority Rosaviatsia said the protesters had been cleared by 10.20pm local time (7.20pm GMT), but the airport would remain closed pending “normalisation” of the situation.
According to The Guardian, posts on the social media platform Telegram had circulated saying that flights from Tel Aviv would be arriving on Sunday evening with refugees from Israel.
“The situation is very difficult in Dagestan, people from the community are afraid, they call, and I do not know what to advise,” Ovadya Isakov, a government representative of the local Jewish community, told the Podyom news outlet.
Israel urged Russian authorities to protect Israelis and Jews in their jurisdictions following the reports.
A statement by the foreign ministry in Jerusalem said the Israeli ambassador in Moscow was working with Russian authorities. “The State of Israel views gravely attempts to harm Israelis citizens and Jews anywhere,” it said.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel “expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens and Jews wherever they may be and to act resolutely against the rioters and against the wild incitement directed against Jews and Israelis”.
While voicing support for a ceasefire in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the regional Dagestani government appealed to citizens to remain calm and not take part in such protests.
“We urge residents of the republic to treat the current situation in the world with understanding. Federal authorities and international organisations are making every effort to bring about a ceasefire against Gaza civilians — we urge residents of the republic not to succumb to the provocations of destructive groups and not to create panic in society,” the Dagestani government wrote on Telegram.
The supreme mufti of Dagestan, Sheikh Akhmad Afandi, called on residents to stop the unrest at the airport.
“You are mistaken. This issue cannot be resolved in this way. We understand and perceive your indignation very painfully. We will solve this issue differently. Not with rallies, but appropriately. Maximum patience and calm for you,” he said in a video published to Telegram.
The protest poses another challenge for Russian president Vladimir Putin, who launched a war on Ukraine in February 2022. Mr Putin earlier condemned the bombing of Gaza, warning that the war could spill well beyond the Middle East.
Moscow 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.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky blamed the events on Russia’s “widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits, and authorities”.