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Kurds storm Israeli consulate after arrest of separatist leader

NEW YORK, Feb. 17 (JTA) — Israel’s growing military ties with Turkey have embroiled the Jewish state in the Kurdish people’s 14-year-old separatist struggle against Turkey. That struggle reached the boiling point Tuesday when Turkey arrested the leader of the Kurdish separatists, Abdullah Ocalan, in Kenya. Kurdish protesters reacted with rampages throughout Europe, seizing consulates, battling with police and threatening mass suicides. On Wednesday, Kurds turned their anger on Israel, storming the Israeli consulate in Berlin. At least three Kurds were killed by Israeli guards at the Berlin consulate, and at least 16 others were wounded, some severely. No Israelis were hurt, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Israel ordered all its diplomatic missions in Europe closed after the Kurdish assault on its consulate. Israel’s missions in the United States continued to operate normally, but its consulate in New York requested increased security from local officials, according to a consular official there. In Berlin, leading Jewish organizations closed their offices after the incident. The German government said the attack was “shocking” and appealed for calm. The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, urged Americans traveling abroad to take special precautions. An Israeli woman who was a relative of an employee at the Berlin consulate was briefly taken hostage, but later released unharmed. The Kurdish protesters were angered by news reports, vehemently denied by Israel, that Israeli intelligence officials had helped Turkey arrest Ocalan. The Kurdish separatist leader was flown to Turkey on Tuesday to face trial and a possible death sentence for alleged terrorist activities. The incident took place on a cold, snowy day in Berlin. Hours after the shootings took place, all was quiet outside the consulate. Fresh-falling snow had covered all traces of blood outside the four-story villa that houses the consular offices. Although the street on which the consulate is located had been closed off, a few curious onlookers could be spotted near the six-foot fence that surrounds the consulate. A heavy police presence was patrolling the residential, affluent area of southwestern Berlin. They could also be seen guarding nearby subway stations. It is “unfortunate” that Israel has been dragged into the situation, said an official with a Jewish organization in Europe. The official noted that Wednesday’s developments were ironic, given Israel’s “warm and sympathetic” relationship with Iraqi Kurds. The official even noted that one of Israel’s candidates for prime minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, is of Iraqi Kurdish origin. But because of Israel’s relations with Turkey, there has not been the same relationship with Turkish Kurds, the official said. In recent years, relations between Israel and Turkey have warmed considerably. As part of those relations, the two countries have signed military agreements and conducted joint military training exercises. In Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli guards at the Berlin consulate had fired in self defense when Kurds broke in. “Israeli security personnel are instructed in such circumstances to act with all force — if necessary also by opening fire in self-defense — and in order to prevent the taking of hostages,” Netanyahu told a news conference Wednesday. “While Israel regrets any loss of life, we are committed to defending Israeli citizens and Israeli missions throughout the world.” Kurds at the scene reportedly claimed that the crowd of 300 demonstrators were proceeding peacefully and were planning to send a delegation inside to meet Israeli officials. But Netanyahu, describing the incident, said that “at least 10 persons, wielding hammers and bats,” broke into the consulate, “passing through the German police responsible for external security. “Climbing on the barred windows of the first floor of the building, they broke into the second-story windows and entered the consulate. “Inside the consulate, they tried to seize weapons, resulting in gunfire and the first casualty. “They attempted to take a woman hostage. She was later released through negotiations conducted by the German police and authorities,” Netanyahu said. He also reiterated that Israel “had no part whatsoever” in the capture
of Ocalan. Israel dispatched security and Foreign Ministry officials to Germany to investigate the incident. Public Security Avigdor Kahalani said the response — or lack of one — by German police stationed outside the consulate is one issue that would be investigated. German police said they were not at the scene at the time of the incident. They later arrested more than 100 demonstrators. German officials have been treading carefully since the Kurdish protests erupted Tuesday. Germany has an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 Kurds and Germans of Kurdish origin living in the country — the largest concentration of Kurds residing in Europe. Tuesday’s protests by the Kurds, which appeared to be a coordinated effort, included demonstrations in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Moscow and Sydney, Australia. At least three Kurds were seriously injured when they set themselves on fire, including a 17-year-old girl in Germany. Much of the Kurds anger was directed against Greece. The Greek Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, had been giving Ocalan protection after he was forced to leave Italy last month. Greek officials in Athens and Nairobi denied that they had turned the Kurdish leader over to Turkey. (JTA correspondents Regine Wosnitza in Berlin, Deidre Berger in Frankfurt and Naomi Segal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)