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Israel-Palestine war: Israel withdraws diplomats from Turkey over security concerns

Turkey has been gripped by protests in solidarity with the Palestinian cause after Israel declared war in the besieged enclave
A man holds a Palestinian flag during a rally in support of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip outside the US Consulate in Istanbul on 18 October 2023 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Israel withdrew all of its diplomats from Turkey on Thursday, including Ambassador Irit Lillian, days after raising its travel advisory to its highest level, multiple sources with knowledge of the matter told Middle East Eye. 

Israel's National Security Council (NSC) issued a warning against travelling to Turkey on Tuesday, citing fears that Israeli travellers might be targeted.

It urged all Israeli citizens in Turkey to leave as soon as possible after raising its travel advisory to its highest level, four.

Three sources familiar with the matter told MEE that the diplomats left on Thursday due to security concerns and not because of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. 

One source said that the Israeli NSC advisory didn't differentiate the diplomats from ordinary Israeli nationals, and had called on all Israelis to leave. 

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MEE reached out to the Israeli foreign ministry for comment but the request was declined.

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Tuesday's NSC advised Israelis to exercise all necessary precautions such as minimising their presence in public spaces and avoiding gatherings.

Demonstrations have gripped Istanbul and Ankara in recent days, with rallies taking place outside Israel's missions in both cities, after 13 days of punishing air strikes on Gaza, a tiny enclave home to more than 2.3 million Palestinians.

Israel began bombing Gaza on 7 October when Palestinian fighters launched a surprise assault on Israel, which killed more than 1,400 people.

Retaliatory Israeli air strikes have killed more than 3,500 Palestinians, including more than 1,500 children and 1,000 women. Around one million people have been displaced and forced to take shelter in hospitals and schools as Israel tightens its siege of the enclave.

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Since the conflict erupted, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly offered to play middleman and help negotiate an end to the hostilities.

Relations between Israel and Turkey improved late last year with the countries exchanging ambassadors following years of security and intelligence cooperation.

Ties between the two first soured in 2011 when Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador after a UN report into Israel's raid of the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza in 2010, which killed nine Turkish nationals.

The rift was healed in 2016 when full diplomatic relations were restored and both countries sent ambassadors.

Tensions were renewed in 2018 when Israeli forces killed scores of Palestinians taking part in the Great March of Return protests in Gaza. The protesters demanded the implementation of refugees' right of return and an end to the crippling siege on Gaza.

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