More Israelis, including diplomats, said detained at Moscow airport

15 Israelis were reportedly stopped for 5 hours by Russian authorities, a day after 46 Israelis were similarly held at airport

Illustrative: Passengers walk past a departure board at Sheremetyevo international airport in Moscow, Russia, July 8, 2019. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)
Illustrative: Passengers walk past a departure board at Sheremetyevo international airport in Moscow, Russia, July 8, 2019. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

A number of Israeli travelers who arrived in Moscow Thursday were reportedly detained at the airport and subjected to questioning.

Some 15 Israelis on an El Al flight were stopped upon arriving in the Russian capital, where airport officials searched the bags of the passengers and took their passports, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Several of the Israelis had their fingerprints taken, according to the report, which said there was no word on why the passengers were detained.

Among those detained were Israeli diplomats and their relatives, the Ynet news site said. It was not immediately clear which airport the incident took place at.

All of the Israelis were released after five hours, according to the website.

The Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the matter

The incident came a day after 46 Israelis were detained for hours at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in an apparent protest by Russia of Israel’s annual barring of thousands of Russians from entering the Jewish state.

It also came as a Russian court heard an appeal from an Israeli-American woman jailed on drug offenses and as the Foreign Ministry hosted Russian diplomats for talks in Jerusalem.

“As part of the dialogue, various consular issues are being raised in order to find an answer for them. Israel will work with Russia in order to ensure Israeli and Russian citizens who want to come for tourist and business needs can do so freely,” a statement released Thursday by the ministry said.

Ahead of the meeting, the ministry said it would seek “clarifications and explanations” regarding the holding of the Israelis Wednesday at the Moscow airport.

The move was designed to send a “message” to Jerusalem ahead of the arrival of a delegation in Israel to discuss the Kremlin’s frustration over the annual barring of thousands of its citizens from entering the Jewish state, Hebrew media reported, citing diplomatic sources.

The Wednesday incident a week after came after a group of eight businessmen were held in a Russian airport overnight and then deported back to Israel, according to Channel 12.

Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP)

Israeli officials were also expected to push the Russian delegation for the release of Naama Issachar, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on drug offenses after a small amount of marijuana was found in her luggage at a Moscow airport in April.

Speaking at a campaign event of this month’s Likud primary on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I am not a magician, but one thing I assure you. I will bring Naama Issachar home.”

The prime minister’s assurance prompted members of her family to express optimism on Wednesday that she could be released Thursday.

An unnamed senior official told Channel 12 Wednesday that Netanyahu’s comments were a mistake.

“From our acquaintance with the Russians, they probably did not like this statement. This is not how you work with the Russians, who deal with such matters behind closed doors and not with the media. The integration of this sensitive issue into an internal political campaign does not help,” the official said, referring to an upcoming Likud leadership vote.

Shortly after the report, Netanyahu’s spokeswoman issued a statement Wednesday clarifying that the prime minister did not mean that Issachar’s release would happen overnight, but rather that “it would take time” and that the premier was committed to bringing her home.

Earlier this month Netanyahu discussed Issachar’s case with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two spoke about security issues in the Middle East. Putin is slated to visit Israel in January. The phone call was the second in three weeks between the two leaders in which Netanyahu called on Putin to pardon the young Israeli-American.

Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Septmber 12, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)

The conversation came on the same day that Foreign Minister Israel Katz met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Rome and raised the issue of Issachar.

Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request.

Russia had tried exchanging Issachar for Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov, but its advances were turned down by Israeli officials, who said they feared setting a precedent. Israel then extradited Burkov as scheduled to the United States, where he is wanted on embezzlement charges for a credit card scheme that allegedly stole millions of dollars from American consumers.

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