Two Israelis were killed, and another was feared dead, after a suicide bomber blew himself up in a central Istanbul shopping and tourist district on Saturday, killing five people and wounding dozens.
Another 10 Israelis were wounded, three of them in moderate to critical condition, and the rest suffering from slight injuries. A Magen David Adom plane with two doctors and eight paramedics headed to Istanbul on Saturday night to retrieve the wounded who were able to fly home. The IDF was also preparing to send an Israel Air Force plane with medical crews on board to return the injured Israelis home.
One of the slain was identified as Simcha Damri, 60, from Dimona, the mother of four children and a grandmother.
Her husband, Avi, was wounded in the attack.
Damri was on a culinary tour of Istanbul with some 14 other Israelis.
One of the leaders behind the Israeli tour group, Naama Peled, was lightly wounded.
“To all my friends and loved ones, I’m fine,” Peled wrote on her Facebook wall. “I was only slightly injured in the attack that took place on Istiklal Street. I am currently being treated in the hospital. I’m praying for everyone’s safety.”
Istanbul suicide bombing
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on Saturday evening from the Foreign Ministry’s situation room, said there was no information that Israelis were targeted in particular in the attack. The prime minister said initial reports indicated that the terrorist was affiliated with Islamic State.
The prime minister issued directions to reinforce personnel at the consulate in Istanbul, and that Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold, cutting short a trip to Washington to attend the AIPAC conference, would be there on Sunday. The Turkish press reported that Gold’s visit would be the highest level visit by an Israeli diplomat to Turkey since ties between the two countries nosedived following the 2010 raid on the blockade- running Mavi Marmara.
Netanyahu said he has not spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip erdogan. They last spoke on the phone briefly in 2013, on the last day of US President Barack Obama’s trip to Israel, in an effort to bring about reconciliation between the two countries.
Asked if this attack might finally help bring about that long-delayed reconciliation, Netanyahu said it was no secret that in recent months, including in recent days, the two countries have been negotiating an agreement that would normalize relations.
“This is being held up because of substantive issues that we are trying to agree on,” the prime minister said. “There was a degree of progress, I hope that it will continue.”
Turkey suicide blast footage from Istanbul
One of the issues has been an Israeli demand that Turkey no longer host Hamas, a terrorist organization that to a large extent “popularized” the types of suicide attacks now devastating Turkey. Saturday’s was the third suicide bombing in Turkey in the last month, killing more than 70 people.
In January, another attack in Istanbul killed 12 people.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a harsh critic of Israel, sent a letter to Netanyahu expressing his condolences “to the families of the Israelis citizens who lost their lives in the heinous attack which happened in Istanbul, and to the people of Israel, and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.”
Davutoglu said that Saturday’s attack “has shown us once again that the international community as a whole should act in a resolute manner against the ignoble objectives of terrorist organizations.”
Netanyahu said that the Counter-Terrorism Bureau would likely update its travel advisory to Turkey on Sunday, making it more stringent.
Since August 2014, the bureau has advised Israelis to refrain from unnecessary travel to the country, saying there is a continuing threat against Israeli and Jewish targets there.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that terrorism has become a worldwide threat, as the Istanbul attack showed, adding that “it forms a most significant threat to the West and its civilians.”
The blast sent panicked shoppers scurrying into side alleys off Istiklal Street, a long pedestrian avenue lined with international stores and foreign consulates, a few hundred meters from an area where police buses are often stationed.
The attack will raise further questions about NATO member Turkey’s ability to protect itself against a spillover of violence from the war in neighboring Syria.
Turkey faces threats from Kurdish militants, whose insurgency has spread from the largely Kurdish southeast and whom Ankara sees as closely linked to a Kurdish militia in Syria, and from Islamic State fighters, who have also recently targeted it.
Germany shut down its diplomatic missions and schools on Thursday, citing a specific threat. Meanwhile, the US and other European embassies had warned their citizens to be vigilant ahead of Newroz celebrations this weekend, a spring festival largely marked by Kurds that has turned violent in the past.
One Turkish official said the bomber had planned to hit a more crowded location but was deterred by the police presence.
“The attacker detonated the bomb before reaching the target point because they were scared of the police,” the official said, declining to be named as the investigation is ongoing.
Another official said investigations were focusing on three possible suspects, all of them male and two of them from the southern city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border. There was no further confirmation of this.
Istiklal Street, usually thronged with shoppers at weekends, was quieter than normal on Saturday as more people are staying home after the recent deadly bombings in the country.
Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu confirmed that 36 people had been wounded, seven of those were in serious condition and at least 12 of them were foreigners. Ireland said “a number” of Irish were hurt, while broadcaster NTV said two Icelandic citizens were wounded. An Iranian national was also killed.
Turkey is a member of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
It is also battling the PKK in its own southeast, where a two-and-a-half-year cease-fire collapsed last July, triggering the worst violence since the 1990s.Reuters and Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.