ISTANBUL/ANKARA - Five people including a suicide bomber were killed and 36 wounded in a suspected attack by Kurdish militants on a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul on Saturday.
The fourth suicide bombing in Turkey this year hit part of Istiklal Street, a long pedestrian zone lined with global brand name shops and foreign consulates, just a few hundred meters from an area where police buses are usually parked.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed that there were Israelis among the wounded in the Saturday morning suicide bombing in Istanbul.
Head of the Joint List party, MK Ayman Odeh said he was in contact with authorities in Turkey who said six Arab-Israeli citizens were wounded in the blast.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said he could not confirm the number of Israelis harmed, nor what condition they were in. Later the ministry released a statement that the Israelis were hospitalized at four different hospitals in the city.
Turkey suicide blast footage from Istanbul
The Foreign Ministry said that the wounded Israelis were part of a group of 14 Israeli tourists. The ministry was set to convene a meeting on the attack on Saturday afternoon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was being updated in the aftermath of the attack.
Netanyahu ordered an increase in manpower at the Turkish consulate in Istanbul and directed the envoy to work towards bringing back to Israel the wounded Israelis.
Preliminary findings indicate that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) or an affiliate carried out the attack, a senior Turkish official told Reuters.
Turkey suicide blast
"The attacker detonated the bomb before reaching the targeted point because they were scared of the police," the official said, adding the bomber had planned to hit a more crowded spot.
Armed police sealed off the shopping street where half a dozen ambulances had gathered. Forensic teams in white suits scoured the area for evidence. Police helicopters buzzed overhead and panicked shoppers fled the area, ducking down narrow sidestreets.
"My local shopkeeper told me someone had blown himself up and I walked towards the end of the street," one neighborhood resident told Reuters.
"I saw a body on the street. No one was treating him but then I saw someone who appeared to be a regular citizen trying to do something to the body. That was enough for me and I turned and went back."
Istiklal Street, usually thronged with shoppers on weekends, was quieter than normal before the blast as more people are staying home after a series of deadly bombings.
Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu confirmed that 36 people had been wounded and seven of those were in serious condition. Twelve of the wounded were foreigners.
"We as a nation are unfortunately now face to face with a situation of unlimited, immeasurable acts that are inhumane, defy human values and are treacherous," Muezzinoglu said.DEADLY BOMBINGS
A suicide car bombing in the capital Ankara killed 37 people this month. A similar bombing in Ankara last month killed 29 people. A Kurdish militant group has claimed responsibility for both of those bombings.
In January, a suicide bomber killed around 10 people, most of them German tourists, in Istanbul's historic heart, an attack the government blamed on Islamic State.
NATO member Turkey faces multiple security threats. As part of a U.S.-led coalition, it is fighting Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. It is also battling PKK militants in its southeast, where a 2-1/2-year ceasefire collapsed last July, triggering the worst violence since the 1990s.
In its armed campaign in Turkey, the PKK has historically struck directly at the security forces and says that it does not target civilians. However, the recent bombings suggest it could be moving toward a tactical shift. A claim of direct responsibility for Saturday's attack could underscore that.
The PKK is looking to carry out attacks aggressively during the coming Newroz spring holiday, the official said. Newroz, which falls on March 21, is Kurdish New Year.