Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau issued a rare statement Friday night underlining a recent travel warning calling on Israelis to avoid visiting Turkey, and urging those currently there to leave as soon as possible.
“Following a situational assessment, we are reiterating and sharpening the high level of threat in Turkey,” Friday’s statement from the bureau said.
“Real and immediate terror threats remain throughout the country,” the statement continued, urging Israelis in Turkey to “avoid crowded tourist areas, follow instructions of local authorities and get out as soon as possible.”
The warning, which raised the terror risk in Turkey from level 2 (high concrete threat) to level 1 (highest concrete threat level), came following a terror attack in central Istanbul last month, in which three Israelis were killed and several others wounded. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Prime Minister’s Office, which oversees the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, issued an initial travel warning in the wake of the attack, saying Islamic State terrorists in Turkey had “high capabilities” of carrying out further attacks against tourist targets.
The fresh alert stressed that the threat of jihadist attack was valid for the entire country, not just Istanbul or other major tourist attractions.
“There are immediate risks of attacks being carried out in the country, and we stress the threat applies to all tourism sites in Turkey,” Israel‘s counter terrorism bureau said.
Tens of thousands of Israelis visit nearby Turkey each year, despite strained diplomatic relations between the two countries.
A Wednesday report on Channel 2 news said that despite the travel warning, over 110,000 Israelis were planning to vacation in Turkey during the upcoming Passover holiday.
Three Israelis and an Iranian were killed and 39 people wounded when an Islamic State terrorist blew himself up on Istiklal Caddesi, a famous shopping street in the heart of Turkey’s biggest city, on March 19.
Days later, Britain’s Sky News reported IS was planning an “imminent” attack on an Istanbul synagogue and Jewish school.
IS has been blamed for four of six bombings that have rocked Turkey in the past eight months, including a double suicide attack at a peace rally in the capital, Ankara, in October that left 103 people dead.
A radical offshoot of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed the other two attacks.
In the wake of the string of attacks, the US diplomatic corps in March ordered the families of American diplomats and military personnel to leave posts in southern Turkey over security concerns.
The travel warnings come amid heightened security concerns throughout Turkey due to the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
In an effort to normalize ties after relations were partially frozen five years ago, Turkey and Israel held a fresh round of talks Thursday in London. Ankara said the talks yielded “progress,” and that bilateral ties would be restored “very soon.”
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report