Israeli tourists in Istanbul were advised Sunday to remain in their hotel rooms and not explore the Turkish city, following a bombing on a popular pedestrian street that left six dead and dozens wounded.
An unnamed security source quoted by Hebrew media recommended that Israelis stay in their hotels until the situation became clearer, and to listen to local security.
The source also called on Israelis to avoid travel to Turkey for non-essential reasons.
There was no indication that the explosion, which Turkish leaders have said appears to be a terror attack, targeted Israelis.
Israelis visiting Turkey have been advised to shelter in their rooms on previous occasions over attack fears, including this June, when Turkish authorities arrested numerous suspects linked to an alleged Iranian attack plot.
Istanbul, just a two-hour flight from Tel Aviv, is a popular tourist destination for Israelis. The Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of any Israelis wounded in Sunday’s blast, although many were nearby when the explosion went off.
Israeli leaders expressed condolences to Turkey after the explosion.
“On behalf of the people of Israel, I send my sincere condolences to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the people of Turkey following today’s heinous terrorist attack in Istanbul,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement. “Our nations stand together in the fight against terror.”
President Isaac Herzog said he was “shaken” by the bombing.
“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,” he said.
Shaken by news of the despicable bombing in Istanbul targeting innocent civilians. 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.
— יצחק הרצוג Isaac Herzog (@Isaac_Herzog) November 13, 2022
The blast took place as Istanbul’s Jewish community was hosting a Jewish culture day, in which they welcomed large crowds into the Neve Shalom synagogue. The event was cut short as news spread about the blast, which took place just blocks away.
Neve Shalom was one of two synagogues bombed during a 2003 wave of attacks 19 years ago that killed 55 people in two days. The event that was cut short was to be followed by a commemoration of those attacks, which killed six Jews in the synagogue bombings.
Earlier, Israeli eyewitnesses described the chaotic scenes following the blast on Istiklal Avenue, a popular thoroughfare lined with shops and restaurants that leads to the iconic Taksim Square.
“My back hurts from the shock that hit me. I felt a real boom and everything was smoke. People were running amok,” Avi Ben Yishai told Channel 12 news.
An Israeli woman who was with her daughters and witnessed the blast said it occurred outside a restaurant that is popular with tourists from Israel.
“It was a terrible explosion. It’s impossible to describe what is going on there,” the woman, who was identified only by her first name Osnat, told the network.
According to images posted on social media at the time of the explosion, it was followed by flames and immediately triggered panic, with people running in all directions.
A large black crater was also visible in those images, as well as several bodies lying on the ground nearby.
Turkish Authorities have offered few details and nobody immediately claimed responsibility.
Turkey’s justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, told pro-government broadcaster A Haber that investigators were focusing on a woman who sat on a bench by the scene of the blast for about 40 minutes. The explosion took place just minutes after she left. He said her identity was not yet clear, nor was it clear what group might be behind the attack.
The moment of the explosion in the Istiklal Street, you can see the fire far in the middle and hear the noise in this video pic.twitter.com/qFt4QfG9e7
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) November 13, 2022
Turkey was hit by a string of bombings between 2015 and 2017 that left more than 500 civilians and security personnel dead. Some of the attacks were perpetrated by the Islamic State jihadist group, including a 2016 suicide bombing in which three Israelis were killed.
Other attacks were executed by Kurdish militants who have led a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state for increased autonomy or independence.