10 Israelis detained at Moscow airport, denied entry to Russia

Travelers held for hours by Russian authorities, reportedly have DNA samples taken; incident comes day after jailed Israeli-American released during Netanyahu visit

Illustrative: Passengers stand waiting at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, June 27, 2013. (Sergei Grits/AP)
Illustrative: Passengers stand waiting at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, June 27, 2013. (Sergei Grits/AP)

Ten Israeli citizens were denied entry to Russia on Friday, a day after an Israeli-American woman jailed there on drug charges was released from prison during a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In recent months Russia has repeatedly detained and blocked Israelis from going in, reportedly in protest at Israel denying entry to hundreds of travelers from Russia.

The ten Israelis, who were traveling on an Aeroflot flight, were detained at the airport upon arriving in Moscow.

They were fingerprinted and had DNA samples taken before they were put on a plane back to Israel, the Ynet news site reported.

The Foreign Ministry cited Russian border authorities as saying the Israelis “did not manage to explain the reason of their arrival in Russia,” according to the news site.

The incident came a day after Netanyahu made a lightning trip to Moscow as Naama Issachar was released from prison following a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Naama Issachar is greeted by Sara Netanyahu while her mother Yaffa and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look on, Moscow Airport, January 30, 2020. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Issachar, 27, was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for alleged drug smuggling after nearly 10 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage. She denied smuggling drugs, noting she did not try to enter Russia during a layover on her way to Israel from India.

An Israeli official said Issachar’s release was the result of a Russian goodwill gesture toward the United States, stressing that Israel did not give Moscow anything in return.

However, Al-Monitor reported on Thursday that Russia raised the issue of Israel blocking the entry of some of its citizens. Last month, several dozen Israelis were detained for questioning at Moscow’s Domodedovo. At the time, the Russian embassy issued a statement that appeared to link the detentions to the fact that “by December 1, 2019, 5,771 Russian tourists were not permitted to enter Israel.”

According to Al-Monitor, an inter-governmental committee run by Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin “asked the Immigration Authority to refrain from sweeping deportations and to justify every deportation with real evidence.”

Russia also reportedly asked Israel to transfer a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property near the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Kremlin, as a goodwill gesture ahead of Issachar’s release.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin meet in Moscow, Russia, January 29, 2018. (Courtesy PMO)

In December, the Foreign Ministry held a consular meeting with Russian officials in Jerusalem during which it said “both sides agreed to do everything so as not to harm the movement of tourists and business ties between the countries and decided on a number of steps to help enforce the bilateral visa-free agreement.”

The ministry said that the sides spoke about “Israelis being prevented entry in Moscow and the issue of illegal workers and asylum seekers entering Israel from Russia,” without detailing any solution beyond Russia confirming that Israelis entering for business talks would be handled under rules published by the Russian embassy in Israel.

Despite the apparent resolution, since then some Israelis have been detained and held for hours after arriving in Russia.

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