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'The people who died protected me because they took the hit'

‘Saved by a miracle’: Israelis describe moment of deadly Istanbul bomb attack

Ofra Adi says she was 2 meters away when explosion killed six people at Taksim Square; 2 women from Ashdod seen walking alongside alleged terrorist in released photo

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Natali Swissa and Or Atedgi from Ashdod are seen walking next to the alleged terrorist who carried out a deadly attack in Istanbul's Taksim Square on November 13, 2022. (Twitter/screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Natali Swissa and Or Atedgi from Ashdod are seen walking next to the alleged terrorist who carried out a deadly attack in Istanbul's Taksim Square on November 13, 2022. (Twitter/screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An Israeli woman who survived a terror attack in Istanbul on Sunday that killed six people and injured dozens, said she only survived the deadly explosion because she was protected by others who took the force of the blast instead.

Sharing the experience in an interview with Kan public broadcaster on Monday, Ofra Adi said she was only two meters (6.5 feet) away.

“I was sitting outside and suddenly heard an explosion and people screaming… I didn’t realize what was happening as there was dust and smoke everywhere. I then saw three people laying on the sidewalk… I only realized it was a terror attack afterwards,” she said.

Turkish officials said two girls aged nine and 15 were among those killed.

“I was two meters away from the terrorist,” said Adi. “The people who died protected me because they took the hit — I only felt the shock wave.”

It is unclear whether Adi was in close proximity to the alleged terrorist or the explosive device at the time of the bombing.

A woman leaves a flower at a memorial at the scene of Sunday’s explosion on Istanbul’s popular pedestrian Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, Nov. 14, 2022 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

An initial investigation has led Turkish authorities to believe the device, which was left on a public bench at the square, was activated remotely.

Two other Israelis — Natali Swissa and Or Atedgi from Ashdod — appeared in the first published picture of the alleged terrorist.

“We were saved by a miracle, there’s no other way of putting it,” Swissa said in an interview with the Ynet news site.

“We were exploring Taksim Square, going in and out of shops. It was all pretty mundane. It was very crowded. As we were leaving a shop we heard a huge explosion and saw a very big mushroom cloud. There was smoke everywhere,” she said.

Swissa and Atedgi described running back to their hotel, where they were surprised to see their image right next to that of the suspected terrorist — a Syrian citizen and a member of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Forensic experts collect a dead body after an explosion on Istanbul’s popular pedestrian Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)

According to Udi Eitam, Israel’s consul-general in Turkey, there were many Israelis near and at the site of Sunday’s attack.

“We helped rescue some Israelis from the area. There were some groups of tourists that contacted us. Some are in shock. We’re in contact with them,” Eitam told Ynet, adding that the local Jewish population was assisting in the efforts.

“Volunteers from the Jewish community in Istanbul visited hospitals to try and locate Israeli victims. The authorities were also very responsive and helpful,” he said.

There were no Israeli casualties identified in the attack.

While there was no immediate indication that the attack was designed to target Israelis, an Israeli security source quoted by Hebrew-language media on Sunday advised Israeli tourists in Istanbul to remain in their hotel rooms and avoid walking around the Turkish city.

On Monday morning the directive to stay in hotels was lifted, however Israelis were still advised to remain cautious.

Security and ambulances at the scene of an explosion on Istanbul’s popular pedestrian Istiklal Avenue, November 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Several months ago, Turkish security forces said they had foiled an Iranian plot to target Israeli citizens in the capital after Israeli officials warned earlier that Iranian agents were ready to kidnap or kill Israelis there as Tehran sought revenge for several assassinations of scientists and military officers, which it blamed on Israel.

In August, Israel and Turkey announced a complete renewal of diplomatic ties, ending over a decade of tensions with Ankara.

In a meeting held between outgoing defense minister Benny Gantz and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, the officials agreed to advance joint efforts for creating “stability, prosperity, and security in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.”

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