An IAF Hercules plane on Sunday brought back to Israel the flagdraped coffins of the three Israelis killed in Saturday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul, as well as five of the 10 wounded Israelis.
Another five of the wounded, suffering light to moderate wounds, were flown back to Israel earlier Sunday morning in a Magen David Adom plane.
The three slain Israelis were identified as Avraham Goldman, 69, from Ramat Hasharon, a father of three; Yonatan Shor, 40, from Tel Aviv, the father of two; and Simcha Damri, 60, a mother of four.
The spouses of all three were also wounded in the blast. Shor and Goldman also held US citizenship.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, said terrorism “sows death and destruction around the world.”
“Israel is at the forefront of the fight against global terrorism,” he said. “This struggle is first of all military, but no less is it a moral struggle. The key to the moral fight against terrorism is to make it clear that terrorism, the murder of innocents, has no justification anywhere – not in Istanbul or the Ivory Coast or Jerusalem. Whoever does not condemn terrorism, supports terrorism.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote a letter of condolences to President Reuven Rivlin Sunday, saying he was “very sorry” to hear that three Israelis were killed and 10 wounded in the Istanbul attack.
“That cruel attack proved again that the international community must unite in its struggle against terrorism that threatens all of mankind and our basic values, and represents a crime against humanity,” he wrote.
Erdogan wrote that the courage demonstrate against terrorist organizations that want to sow fear, gives us strength in our struggle.
“I want to send my deepest condolences to the Israeli people and the families that lost their loved ones in this traitorous attack in Istanbul, as they were visiting the city and wanting to get to know our culture better. I wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.”
Erdogan wrote the letter in Turkish, and an English translation was attached.
Turkey’s interior minister identified the bomber as Mehmet Ozturk, a 24-year-old from south Turkey who was a member of Islamic State. The sense in Jerusalem is that he did not specifically target the Israelis, who were on a culinary tour of the city.
Nevertheless, the National Security Council’s Counter- Terrorism Bureau upgraded its travel advisory and called on Israelis to avoid visiting the country altogether.
The new advisory is more stringent than the one that has been in place since August 2014, which advised Israelis only to refrain from unnecessary travel to Turkey.
The advisory was upgraded from a Level 4 warning of a potential threat, to a Level 3 warning of a basic concrete threat.
“Recent months have seen a considerable upsurge in the threat level in Turkey, which has found expression in the significant magnitude of terrorist attacks, especially suicide attacks by the Kurdish underground and Islamic State, throughout the country, notably in Istanbul and Ankara,” read a statement from the bureau, explaining the new status of the advisory.
Israeli diplomatic and medical officials praised the cooperation with both Turkish medical and governmental officials.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel was “extremely satisfied with the cooperation of the Turkish authorities following the terrorist attacks. We received extensive assistance from the health authorities, from the police and from the municipal authorities of Istanbul.”
MDA spokesman Zaki Heller said members of his delegation in Turkey had prepared five more seriously wounded Israeli tourists – in three Turkish hospitals – for flights back to Israel. The tourists were taken in Turkish Red Crescent ambulances, which drove them to the airport in Istanbul for the return trip on the IAF plane. Every wounded tourist had a team of MDA doctors and paramedics accompanying him or her.
Saturday’s attack on Istiklal Street, Istanbul’s most popular shopping district, is the fourth such bombing in Turkey this year and the second one by Islamist terrorists. In January, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Istanbul’s historic heart, killing 12 German tourists.
NATO-member Turkey is on heightened alert after the bombings, which have killed more than 80 people. A soccer match between Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce and Galatasaray was canceled on Sunday and the stadium evacuated due to what appeared to be a security threat.
As part of a US-led coalition, Turkey is fighting Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. It is also battling Kurdish fighters in its southeast, where a two-and-a-half year cease-fire collapsed last July, triggering the worst violence since the 1990s.
The spate of bombings has raised questions about Turkey’s ability to protect itself from a spillover of both the Syrian and Kurdish conflicts.
Police were questioning the father and brother of alleged bomber Ozturk and had determined his identity by checking a DNA sample from the blast scene against one taken from his father, security sources said.
Ozturk’s family reported him missing after he went to Istanbul in 2013, the security sources said.
Streets across Istanbul, usually bustling with traffic and pedestrians on Sundays, were eerily quiet apart from the sound of police helicopters buzzing overhead.
Although Istiklal Street was quiet earlier in the day, it was no longer deserted by afternoon.
Crowds gathered at a makeshift memorial at the site of the bombing, where mourners laid carnations next to handwritten signs that read: “We are here. We are not afraid.”
Ahmet Merkit, who was carrying a Turkish flag near the site of the blast, described the bombing as an attack against all Turks.
“Those who did this cannot call themselves Muslims. They have no religion,” he said. “We must remain a democratic society. We are a nation that has never surrendered, we will not surrender to terrorism now.”
Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook were not readily accessible, local users reported. Authorities have blocked access after past bombings, usually because graphic images have been shared online.
It was not immediately clear whether Germany, which closed its diplomatic missions and German schools in Turkey last week citing a security threat, would open them on Monday. A foreign ministry spokeswoman said the decision would be made at short notice.