More than 40 Israelis, including children, were reportedly detained for hours at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, on Wednesday, after Russian authorities delayed their entry to the country for no apparent reason. Their passports were confiscated and they were fingerprinted.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it was looking into the matter and had contacted the Russian authorities to quickly resolve the issue. According to the MFA, after six hours all of the Israelis were allowed to enter Russia except for one, who was “expected to be released within the hour.”
A similar incident happened last week, when eight businessmen were held in a Russian airport overnight and then deported back to Israel.
Russia and Israel officially have an agreement allowing each others’ citizens to enter their countries without a visa, allowing travelers to visit hassle-free. The delay of Israeli citizens upon entering Russia is therefore a rare occurrence.
In response to the incident, Russia’s embassy in Israel said Israel denies entry to hundreds of Russians every month.
“According to data that the Russian embassy has, In October alone 568 Russian tourists were not granted entry, and in November, 569. However, we do not respond to Israeli authorities’ decisions,” they stated.
The MFA said that it is working to ensure that “Israeli tourists and business people can continue to enter Russia, as it has been until now. Especially when it is clear the two countries have a joint interest in encouraging mutual tourism and bilateral trade.”
Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said that he instructed Israeli diplomats to meet with their Russian counterparts and resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
“Israel values its relations with Russia and the promotion of trade and tourism between the countries. Direct dialogue on a variety of issues is an important tool for strengthening relations between the countries. I instructed MFA officials to promote a quick solution to the issue of delaying the entry of Israelis into Russia, and to emphasize the [Israeli] expectation that Naama Issachar returns to her family,” he said.
Katz referred to an Israeli-American citizen, Naama Issachar, who was sentenced to seven years in Russian prison after she was convicted of smuggling less than 10 grams of cannabis into the country.
Israel has exerted diplomatic efforts to release Issachar, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently vowed to bring her back to Israel.