The travel warning comes in the wake of a deadly terror attack in Istanbul on 13 November.
By Erin Viner
“A Level 3 Travel Warning (an intermediate threat) has been in place since prior to this attack and remains in effect for Türkiye, which means avoiding non-essential travel to the country,” said an official statement issued by Israel’s National Security Council (NSC).
Saying that the attack in Turkey “illustrates the danger to Israelis visiting/staying in the country,” the counter-terrorism bureau called on citizens to maintain heightened awareness in public places, follow instructions from local security forces and exercise heightened caution.
A directive issued the same day as the attack requiring Israeli tourists to remain in their hotel rooms is no longer in effect.
Turkish police have arrested 46 people in connection to the attack in the heart of Istanbul, adjacent to the central Taksim Square.
Six people were killed and 81 others wounded when the explosion rocked a busy pedestrian street in the Beyoglu district of Turkey’s largest city on Sunday, which had been crowded for weekend activities by tourists, families and shoppers.
According to sources in the city, chief among the suspects is Syrian female national Ahlam Al-Bashir, who is believed to have planted a bomb. Basir has reportedly confessed to have entered Turkey through northwest Syria’s Afrin region after receiving training by Kurdish militants in the Arab Republic.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was cited by the state-run Anadolu as disclosing that a woman had sat on a bench for more than 40 minutes prior to leaving just before the blast, indication that an explosive device had either been timed or detonated remotely.
While no one has so far claimed responsibility for the blast, Istanbul and other Turkish cities have been targeted in the past by Kurdish separatists, Islamist militants and other groups. Twin bombings outside an Istanbul soccer stadium in December 2016 killed 38 people and wounded 155 in an attack claimed by an offshoot of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
“Efforts to defeat Turkey and the Turkish people through terrorism will fail today just as they did yesterday and as they will tomorrow,” declared President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, vowing, “Our people can rest assured that the culprits… will be punished as they deserve.”
Condemnations of the attack and condolences for the victims were swift to come from countries around the world.
“Shaken by news of the despicable bombing in Istanbul targeting innocent civilians,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog wrote on Twitter, adding, “On behalf of the Israeli people, I extend our deepest sympathies to our Turkish friends and the victims’ families. The whole world must stand united and firm against terror.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz immediately offered to provide “any assistance required” after holding a conversation with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar.
Expressing “heartfelt condolences” on behalf of Israel’s defense establishment and himself, Minister Gantz also sent “prayers to affected families, to the Turkish nation, and to the government of Turkiye.”
Jerusalem’s top defense official emphasized that, “This attack is a painful reminder that we must continue deepening defense cooperation against bloodthirsty terrorists who seek to harm innocent civilians. This is the way we operate today and what we will continue to do.”