Russian delegation heads to Israel amid tourist detention tit-for-tat


A high-level Russian diplomatic delegation is expected to arrive in Israel Thursday, a day after forty-six Israeli citizens were detained at the Moscow airport on Wednesday.The diplomats are expected to try to smooth over the issue, after the Israeli group, including children, were held for six hours in Domodedovo Airport before being allowed entry to Russia. Their detention came after eight businessmen were detained overnight in a Russian airport this week.They also plan to discuss the ongoing imprisonment of Israeli-American citizen Naama Issachar, who a Russian court sentenced to seven years in prison after she was less than 10 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage during a flight connection in Moscow earlier this year.Russia and Israel enjoy a visa-waiver program between the two countries and citizens of both countries should theoretically be able to travel between them easily.However, some of the group detained Wednesday reported that their passports were confiscated and they were interrogated in Russian without translation, and were not given a reason for the detention.Itamar Eichner, a reporter for Yediot Aharonot, was one of the detainees, and tweeted throughout the day about the “unpleasant” experience.“The Israelis are being questioned slowly,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, hundreds of tourists from around the world are entering and not one is being detained.”The journalist was asked to sign a document in Russian, which he refused to do, and suspected that it was an attempt to prevent him from reporting on Issachar. He was also fingerprinted and photographed by officials.Eichner said he asked a Russian official why they were being held, and was told: “Check how many tourists from Russia you refuse to allow in.”Over 5,700 Russian tourists were not allowed into Israel since the beginning of 2019, the Russian Embassy said, averaging 20 per day.These tourists “arrive in Israel with money and have organized tours are delayed and sent back to Russia,” the embassy added, meaning that they are unlikely to be taking advantage of the visa waiver in order to illegally work in Israel.The Foreign Ministry said it is “working so that tourists and Israeli businesspeople can continue to enter Russia, as it has been until now,” and that “the two countries have a joint interest in encouraging mutual tourism and bilateral trade ties.”The Foreign Ministry also Wednesday that the detentions are connected to Issachar.A Russian court is expected to hear an appeal by the Issachar’s lawyers on Thursday.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring Issachar back to Israel, in remarks made Tuesday night.Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he instructed his office to emphasize the Israeli expectation that Issachar will “quickly be returned…to her family” and that “Israel places great importance on its relations with Russia.”Israel does not currently have an ambassador to Russia. The former ambassador’s term ended four months ago and a new one has not been appointed during this extended interim government period.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.



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