Israel Looking Into Whether Istanbul Bomber Targeted Its Nationals

Netanyahu confirms at least two Israelis killed and several wounded in suicide attack; Israeli victims were part of 14-member group touring central Istanbul.

Turkish police push people away after an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on March 19, 2016.
AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that two Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing in central Istanbul on Saturday. In televised comments, Netanyahu said that another Israeli was feared dead, and that Israel is looking into whether the attack targeted its nationals. 

One of the deceased has been identified as Simcha Damari, a woman in her 50s from Dimona. Later, the White House said two of the victims were Americans, with Israel later confirming they were dual Israeli nationals.

Israeli killed in Istanbul suicide bombing: Simcha Damari
Courtesy

Earlier, Turkish media reported three Israelis and one Iranian were killed in the attack, which took place shortly before 11 A.M. on Istiklal Street, located in a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul.

Thirty-six people were wounded, among them eleven Israelis, two of whom are in serious condition. Also among the wounded are nationals of Ireland, Iceland, Germany, the U.A.E. and Iran.

Unconfirmed Turkish reports identified the Istanbul terrorist as 33-year-old Savaş Yulduz.

The Israeli victims were part of a 14-member tour group, according to the Foreign Ministry. Members of the Israeli consulate in Ankara were dispatched to visit the wounded Israelis, who were being treated at five different hospitals.

Unconfirmed Turkish reports identify the Istanbul terrorist as 33-year-old Savaş Yulduz
YouTube
CCTV: Moment of suicide blast in central Istanbul

In remarks delivered from the Foreign Ministry's situation room on Saturday evening, Netanyahu said Israel is trying to determine whether Israelis were deliberately targeted, but said that so far there was no confirmation that was the case. He said that he has ordered security to be bolstered around Israeli diplomatic missions in Istanbul and that he has yet to speak to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"Foreign Ministry staff will work around the clock to bring [Israelis back home], and to provide them full support in this difficult moment," Netanyahu said. "I'm sure Israel's citizens join me in wishing for the recovery of the wounded, as well as conveying condolences to the murder victims' families."

Asked if the attack could bring about an Israeli-Turkish reconciliation, Netanyahu said that key issues between the two counties were still being negotiated.

Israel is in "regular contact with Turkey in recent months, it's no secret, even in the past few days" Netanyahu said. He added that an agreement between is being delayed "because of fundamental differences we are trying to agree on. There have been some progress and I hope that we will continue to make progress."

Emergency services at the scene of an explosion in Istanbul, Turkey, March 19, 2016.
AP

Israel sends medical teams to treat, retrieve victims

A Magen David Adom emergency delegation was expected to depart for Istanbul to bring the Israeli casualties home. The Israeli Foreign Ministry noted it has yet to make contact with six Israelis who were thought to be at the site of the attack.

The Israeli army is also preparing to send an Israel Air Force plane carrying medical personal to Turkey to help treat the victims of the attack in Istanbul.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Saturday that the bombing in Istanbul "is yet another proof for the vital need for an extensive cooperation to tackle global terrorism, which has become the most significant threat to the West."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which two senior Turkish officials said could have been carried out by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy in the southeast, or by an ISIS militant.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, who is in the United States for the annual AIPAC conference, is cutting his trip short and will travel to Istanbul on Sunday afternoon in coordination with the Turkish government.

Earlier, Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry to ask Turkey to condemn a tweet by a senior official in its ruling party, who expressed hope that the Israelis hurt in the attack would die.

Turkey had heightened security in Ankara and Istanbul in the run-up to a Kurdish spring festival of Newroz on March 21, which Kurds in Turkey traditionally use to assert their ethnic identity and demand greater rights.

The explosion comes as Turkey is on edge following two recent suicide bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara.

On Sunday, 37 people were killed and another 125 were wounded in a suicide car bombing in Ankara. The explosion occurred less than a month after a car bomb attack in central Ankara killed 29 people. Kurdish militants claimed responsibility for that attack.