Turkey arrests suspect in connection with Haitian president’s murder

ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkish authorities have arrested a man considered a suspect of “great interest” in the July assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Claude Joseph said late on Monday.

The 53-year-old former businessman Moise, who took office in 2017, was shot dead at his private residence and his wife was wounded in the attack.

A group of Colombian mercenaries emerged as the main suspects though nobody has been charged or convicted in connection with the case.

“I just had a phone conversation with the Turkish Minister, my friend Mevlut Cavusoglu, to thank Turkey for the arrest of Samir Handal, one of the persons of great interest in the investigation into the assassination of the president,” Joseph said on Twitter.

An August report by Haiti’s police said Handal had hosted “meetings of a political character” at his Port-au-Prince home that included the participation of Emmanuel Sanon, a suspected mastermind of the assassination who was arrested in July.

Investigators who searched Sanon’s residence found seven Haitian passports and three Palestinian passports bearing Handal’s name, according to the report.

Sanon, a Haitian-American doctor, told police that Handal had sent four Colombian security guards to protect him while he was in Haiti, the report says.

Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Sanon or Handal.

Turkish media reported on Tuesday that Handal, who was being sought with an Interpol Red Notice, was detained at the Istanbul Airport by authorities as he was flying transit from the United States to Jordan.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Gessika Thomas; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Jonathan Oatis)

Turkey curbs flights to Belarus to ease migrant crisis

By Robin Emmott and Tuvan Gumrukcu

BRUSSELS/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey banned Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi citizens from flights to Minsk on Friday, potentially closing off one of the main routes that the EU says Belarus has used to fly in migrants by the thousand to engineer a humanitarian crisis on its frontier.

Thousands of migrants from the Middle East are sheltering in freezing conditions in the woods on the border between Belarus and the EU states Poland and Lithuania, which are refusing to let them cross. Some have already died and there are fears for the safety of the rest as bitter winter conditions settle in.

The EU accuses Belarus of creating the crisis as part of a “hybrid attack” on the bloc – distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying in the migrants and pushing them to cross the border illegally. Brussels may impose new sanctions on Belarus and airlines it blames for ferrying the migrants, as soon as Monday.

EU officials welcomed Friday’s announcement by Turkey’s Civil Aviation General Directorate that Syrians, Yemenis and Iraqis would not be permitted to buy tickets to Belarus or board flights there from Turkish territory.

Turkey has denied playing a direct role by allowing its territory to be used to ferry in migrants. But Minsk airport’s website listed six commercial flights arriving from Istanbul on Friday, the most from any city outside the former Soviet Union.

European officials have repeatedly said their best hope of resolving the crisis is to stop would-be migrants in the Middle East from boarding flights for Belarus at the source, and that diplomats were negotiating in the region to achieve this.

“These contacts are already showing fruit,” a European Commission spokesperson said.

The EU spokesperson said Iraqi Airways had also agreed to halt flights to Belarus. A spokesperson for the airline said all airlines in Iraq had already suspended flights to Belarus several months ago at the request of the Iraqi government.

Belarus denies that it has fomented the crisis, but has also said it cannot help resolve it unless Europe lifts existing sanctions. The EU imposed several rounds of measures in response to President Alexander Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on mass street protests against his rule in 2020.

Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia, threatened this week to cut off Russian gas supplies delivered to Europe through Belarusian territory. On Friday, the Kremlin appeared to distance itself from that threat, saying it was not consulted in advance of Lukashenko’s remarks and it would fulfil its gas delivery contracts.

But Moscow shows no sign of leaning on Lukashenko to resolve the border crisis, and has made a number of demonstrations of its military support for him in recent days. Russian and Belarusian paratroopers held joint drills near the border on Friday, and the Russian air force has sent planes this week to patrol the frontier.

“From our point of view, the Russian president has the possibility to influence the situation and we expect him to take appropriate steps,” a German government spokesperson said.

At the border, Polish authorities said they had foiled 223 attempts to cross the border illegally from Belarus overnight, including two large groups. They estimate the number of migrants trapped along the border at 3,000-4,000.

Neighboring Lithuania reported 110 crossing attempts overnight and said it would be finishing a 100-km razor wire barrier along the border by Dec. 10, three weeks ahead of schedule.

FREEZING CONDITIONS

The EU has so far fully backed Poland and Lithuania in taking a hard line on banning illegal crossings from Belarus, for fear that allowing even a small number to enter would encourage huge numbers to follow them.

But charities and advocates say the freezing conditions have created a humanitarian emergency, and that European states have an obligation to allow access to provide food and shelter. The media has also been kept away, which critics say is concealing the extent of the crisis.

“Access for independent observers and the media is essential,” said Iwo Los, from Grupa Granica (Border Group), a Polish organization. “These people…have to receive humanitarian aid, medical aid and this aid must be provided to them on both sides of the border.”

The Baltic nations bordering Belarus have warned that the crisis could escalate into a military confrontation. The Presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will meet on Monday in Vilnius to discuss the crisis and be joined by video link by Poland’s president Andrzej Duda, the Lithuanian president’s office said on Friday.

Interior ministers of the four countries are also due to call on international organizations to help avert a humanitarian crisis by engaging directly with Minsk.

“We call upon you to engage with Belarusian authorities and other relevant stakeholders in order to organize humanitarian and medical assistance for the people whose arrival to their territory they have organized themselves,” they will say according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

(Reporting Robin Emmott and Marine Strauss in Brussels, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Andrius Sytas in Kapciamietsis, Lithuania, Dmitry Antonov and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Jan Lopatka and Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Peter Graff)

Turkey’s Russian air defense systems and U.S. response

(Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan this week flagged potential further cooperation with Russia on defense industry projects including fighter jets and submarines even as the United States warned it could respond with more sanctions.

Turkey received the first deliveries of the S-400 surface-to-air systems in July 2019, prompting Washington to begin removing the NATO ally from its F-35 stealth fighter program over security concerns.

The following timeline presents the main developments in the program and Ankara’s relations with the United States.

Dec. 29, 2017 – Turkey and Russia sign an accord on deliveries of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, reportedly worth around $2.5 billion.

June 19, 2018 – A U.S. Senate committee passes a spending bill that includes a provision to block Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets unless it drops the plan to buy the S-400s.

March 28, 2019 – U.S. Senators introduce a bipartisan bill to prohibit the transfer of F-35s to Turkey unless the U.S. administration certifies that Ankara will not take delivery of the S-400s.

June 7, 2019 – The United States decides to stop accepting any additional Turkish pilots to train on F-35 fighter jets.

July 17, 2019 – The United States says it was removing Turkey from the F-35 program; Ellen Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, says Turkey would no longer receive more than $9 billion in projected work.

July 25, 2019 – Russia completes the first shipment of its S-400 systems to Turkey, according to Turkish military officials.

Sept. 15, 2019 – Turkey’s defense ministry confirms delivery of a second battery of S-400s.

Nov. 12, 2020 – Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar says Turkey is ready to discuss U.S. concerns about the technical compatibility of Russian S-400 defense systems and U.S.-made F-35 jets, renewing Ankara’s call for a joint working group with Washington on the issue.

March 24, 2021 – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, urges Ankara to drop the S-400 system. In the same meeting, Cavusoglu told his U.S. counterpart that its purchase was “a done deal.”

July 21, 2021 – U.S. President Joe Biden is committed to maintaining sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for buying Russian missile defenses and would impose further sanctions if Ankara bought further major arms systems from Moscow, according to a senior U.S. diplomat.

Aug. 23, 2021 – The Interfax new agency reports the head of Russia’s arms exporter as saying Russia and Turkey were close to signing a new contract to supply Ankara with more S-400s in the near future.

Sept. 26, 2021 – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey still intends to buy a second batch of missile defense systems from Russia.

Sept. 30, 2021 – Turkey is considering more joint defense industry programs with Russia including fighter jets and submarines, President Erdogan says after talks with President Vladimir Putin. Erdogan did not mention further S-400 purchases or U.S. sanctions, but said “Turkey would not back down.”

(Compiled by Oben Mumcuoglu and Berna Syuleymanoglu in Gdansk; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Daren Butler)

Qatar and Turkey working to restore Kabul passenger flights, ministers say

ANKARA (Reuters) – Qatar and Turkey are working to restore passenger flights at Kabul airport soon but have yet to agree with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers how to run the airport, their foreign ministers said on Tuesday.

Both countries have technical teams at the airport and Qatar is chartering near daily humanitarian flights following the withdrawal of U.S. troops a week ago, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said.

“We hope in the next few days we can get to a level where the airport is up and running for passengers and for humanitarian aid as well,” Sheikh Mohammed told a joint news conference in Doha with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Damage to the airport’s runways, towers and terminals, needs to be repaired before civilian flights can resume, Turkey has said.

Because of the damage, pilots flying into and out of the airport are operating in “fly-as-you-see” mode, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

He told Turkish broadcaster NTV that Turkey and Qatar were working to ensure that both humanitarian and commercial flights could operate. “For both of these, the most important criteria is security,” he said.

Turkey says it wants to provide security inside the airport to protect any Turkish team deployed there and safeguard operations, but that the Taliban have insisted there can be no foreign forces present.

Cavusoglu suggested the task could be given to a private security company. “In the future, if everything comes back on track in Afghanistan and the security concern is lifted, Afghan forces can do this.

“But right now, nobody is certain. There is no confidence.”

Cavusoglu said a “pre-delegation” of 19 Turkish technicians was working at Kabul airport with a Qatari team.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen in Ankara, Humeyra Pamuk in Doha, Aziz El YAakoubi and Lisa Barrington in Dubai Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Potter)

Erdogan says Turkey still aims to maintain Kabul airport security

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey still aims to maintain security at Kabul airport, after Taliban fighters took control of Afghanistan’s capital.

NATO member Turkey, which has hundreds of troops in Afghanistan, had been discussing with the United States a proposal to keep those forces in the country to guard and run the airport after the withdrawal of other NATO forces.

Turkish sources told Reuters this week that those original plans were dropped because of the chaos in Kabul, but that Turkey would still offer the Taliban security and technical assistance at the airport.

Erdogan also said in a television interview that he was open to cooperation with the Islamist Taliban, and welcomed what he said had been their moderate statements so far.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Chris Reese)

Turkey combats Black Sea floods, death toll rises to 31

By Nevzat Devranoglu

SINOP, Turkey (Reuters) -Emergency workers battled to relieve flood-hit areas of Turkey’s Black Sea region on Friday, as the death toll rose to 31 in the second natural disaster to strike the country this month.

The floods, among the worst Turkey has experienced, brought chaos to northern provinces just as authorities were declaring wildfires that raged through southern coastal regions for two weeks had been brought under control.

Torrents of water tossed dozens of cars and heaps of debris along streets, destroyed bridges, closed roads and cut off electricity to hundreds of villages.

“This is the worst flood disaster I have seen,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters late on Thursday after surveying damage that extended across the provinces of Bartin, Kastamonu and Sinop.

Twenty-nine people died as a result of floods in Kastamonu and another two people died in Sinop, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said.

Ten people were being treated in hospital, it added.

Opposition politicians said many more people were missing and the number of deaths could rise sharply.

“The infrastructure in Ayancik (district) has completely collapsed. The sewage system is destroyed. There is no electricity or water,” Sinop Mayor Baris Ayhan told Reuters.

TREES UPROOTED

The floods and fires, which killed eight people and devastated tens of thousands of hectares of forest, struck in the same week that a U.N. panel said global warming was dangerously close to spiraling out of control, and warned that extreme weather would become more severe.

About 45 cm (18 inches) of rain fell in less than three days in one village near the worst-hit region, Kastamonu’s Bozkurt district, AFAD cited meteorology authorities as saying.

Footage of the flood’s first moments in Bozkurt showed the river there overflowing in a fast-moving deluge which tore up trees and dragged away vehicles.

The small town of Bozkurt lies in a valley along the banks of the Ezine river in Kastamonu province, 2.5 km (1.6 miles) from the Black Sea.

Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmakers attributed the level of destruction there to extensive construction on the river banks in recent years.

Speaking in Bozkurt, Erdogan declared the three provinces a disaster zone. “Our country has been grappling with natural disasters for a while, as are many places in the world. This is not just our country but the United States, Canada, Germany and many other European countries,” he said.

More than 1,800 people were evacuated from flood-affected areas, some with the aid of helicopters and boats, AFAD said.

Helicopters lowered coast guard personnel onto the roofs of buildings to rescue people stranded as flood water swept through the streets, footage shared by the Interior Ministry showed.

Nearly 180 villages were still without electricity on Friday evening. Five bridges had collapsed and many others were damaged, leading to road closures, AFAD added. Parts of the roads were also swept away.

Turkey’s meteorology authority said more heavy rain was expected in the central and eastern Black Sea region with a risk of further floods.

(Additional reporting Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mike Collett-White and Giles Elgood)

Flash floods sweep through northern Turkey in new natural disaster

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -Seventeen people were killed in flash floods in Turkey’s Black Sea region on Thursday that sent water and debris cascading through streets, damaged bridges and ripped up roads in the second natural disaster to strike the country this month.

The floodwaters brought chaos to northern provinces just as authorities were declaring that some of the wildfires that had raged through southern coastal regions for two weeks had been brought under control.

The floods and the fires, which killed eight people and devastated tens of thousands of hectares of forest, struck in the same week that a U.N. panel said global warming is dangerously close to spiraling out of control.

Fifteen people were killed in the floods in Kastamonu province and two people died in Sinop, authorities said, adding that search and rescue operations were continuing.

More than 1,400 people were evacuated from the areas affected, some with the help of helicopters and boats, and about 740 people were being housed in student dormitories, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said.

Helicopters lowered coast guard personnel onto the roofs of buildings to rescue people who were stranded as flood water swept through the streets, footage shared by the Interior Ministry showed.

The deluge damaged power infrastructure, leaving about 330 villages without electricity. Five bridges had collapsed and many others were damaged, leading to road closures, AFAD added. Parts of the roads were also swept away.

Television footage showed the floods dragging dozens of cars and heaps of debris along the streets. The heavy rainfall in the region was expected to ease on Thursday evening, AFAD said.

Authorities said that 299 forest fires which had burnt across southwestern provinces for the last two weeks had been brought under control.

President Tayyip Erdogan said they were the worst fires Turkey had faced in its history. Thousands of Turks and tourists were evacuated as the flames spread through Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions, fanned by hot, dry weather and strong winds.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall)

Blazes flare anew in Greece but spare ancient Olympia

By Lefteris Papadimas and Leon Malherbe

EVIA, Greece, (Reuters) – A big blaze that swelled overnight forced the evacuation of many villages on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula on Wednesday, as exhausted firefighters battled wildfires for a ninth consecutive day and as fires also raged in Algeria, Turkey and elsewhere.

In the north of Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, flare-ups remained the main problem for firefighters, who were joined by volunteers to combat the flames.

In the Peloponnese, a flare-up started near ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games, but spread to Gortynia as it intensified late on Tuesday, burning virgin forest and prompting authorities to evacuate 20 villages.

About 580 Greek firefighters, helped by colleagues from France, Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, were battling the blazes in Gortynia.

The fires broke out during Greece’s worst heatwave in three decades last week, with searing temperatures and dry heat causing tinder box conditions.

At the Pefki seaside resort on Evia, cafeteria owner Thrasyvoulos Kotzias, 34, looked at an empty beach.

“If we did not have these problems the beach at Pefki would be full of people. Right now it is just us,” he said.

“If helicopters and water bombing planes had come right away and operated for six, seven hours, the wildfire would have been put out in the first day,” he said.

A Russian Ilyushin Il-76 water bombing plane arrived in Athens on Tuesday to help firefighting operations and a second plane was due to be stationed in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.

‘HARD CHOICES’

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni told reporters the wildfires in the north of Athens had destroyed a large swathe of forest in the former royal estate at Tatoi, damaging seven buildings.

“What we have lived through is unprecedented, we cannot easily forget the images we saw,” said Mendoni, adding that the fires had largely spared cultural monuments.

More than 500 fires have burned across Greece in the last week, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people.

“Our climate is changing and we need to make hard choices as a species to avoid the worst,” astronaut Thomas Pesquet tweeted from the International Space Station orbiting the Earth. “My heart goes out to all affected by the wildfires and the intense heat in the Mediterranean.”

At least 65 people have been killed in wildfires tearing through forests in northern Algeria, state television reported on Wednesday. Meanwhile Turkey’s northern coast was hit by flooding after some of the biggest wildfires in the country’s history had ravaged its southeast.

Credit ratings agency Moody’s said in a report that the wildfires in Greece had highlighted its vulnerability to climate change, though it said the related costs were manageable.

The government has announced a relief package of 500 million euros – about 0.3% of nominal economic output – but Moody’s noted that devastating wildfires in 2007 caused total estimated damage of nearly 3 billion euros, or 1.3% of nominal output.

“Aside from direct fiscal support, disruption triggered by wildfires, including power and water outages, poor air quality and road closures is also likely to weigh on tourism, a credit negative for the country’s local governments,” Moody’s said.

The U.N. climate panel sounded a dire warning this week that the world’s greenhouse gas levels were high enough to guarantee climate disruption for decades.

(Writing by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Gareth Jones)

No end to Greek inferno as wildfires rage into the night

By George Georgiopoulos and Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) -Wildfires in Greece raged into the night burning more forest and homes in the northern outskirts of Athens and other parts of the country and forcing more evacuations as more international aid was on the way.

Authorities struggled with 154 wildfires across the country on Friday with the biggest fronts still burning in the north of Athens, the island of Evia and areas in the Peloponnese including Mani, Messinia and ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.

“We are facing another, more difficult night,” Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters. “Wildfires of unprecedented intensity and spread, all our forces are fighting the battle day and night to save lives, together with volunteers.”

In the northern part of the island of Evia near Athens, the coast guard evacuated 650 people by boat as wildfires burned through forestland all the way to the shore for the fourth day.

As night approached, firefighters kept battling a continuous resurgence of blazes in the north of Athens which, fanned by strong winds, threatened to engulf the lake of Marathon and go up Mount Parnitha.

Greece, like much of the rest of Europe, has been grappling with extreme weather this summer. A week-long heatwave – its worst in 30 years – has sparked simultaneous wildfires in many parts of the country, burning homes and killing animals as flames tear through thousands of acres of land.

The fire, which broke out on Tuesday, burned around the main highway linking Athens to northern Greece and hundreds of firefighters with water-bombing aircraft battled to contain it.

A 38-year-old man was killed on Friday by a falling electricity pylon in a suburb north of Athens, the hospital where he was treated said.

In neighboring Turkey, authorities are battling the country’s worst-ever wildfires. Flames sweeping through its southwestern coastal regions forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. In Italy, hot winds fanned flames on the island of Sicily this week.

Police went door to door on Friday urging people to leave their homes north of Athens. Authorities ordered the evacuation of more suburbs in the north of Athens as the blaze advanced, burning more homes, cars and businesses.

“We are witnessing a catastrophe of historic proportions and climate change is the basic cause,” said Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s main political opposition. “We must support our frontline fighters and all who lost the efforts of a lifetime in a few minutes.”

FIERY DISASTER

Temperatures have been over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) all week and little let up came on Friday with high winds spreading the flames further.

The Athens power grid operator announced staggered power cuts in the surrounding region to ensure there were no major outages in mainland Greece.

In Gytheio in the southern Peloponnese, a coast guard vessel rescued 10 people from a beach as a blaze there flared. Locals made desperate calls for firefighting aircraft.

More foreign help was on the way with Switzerland sending three helicopters, joining other countries, including France, Cyprus, Israel, Sweden and the Ukraine who sent firefighters and water-bombing aircraft, the civil protection minister said.

The U.S. Navy was sending a P-8 aerial reconnaissance aircraft to support firefighting efforts.

In the Peloponnese, where firefighters saved Ancient Olympia from a fire this week, the flames left behind scorched earth and dead animals.

“A catastrophe,” said farmer Marinos Anastopoulos. “The fire came around midday with swirling winds and homes were burned, a lot of animals burned to death. Rabbits, sheep, dogs, everything.”

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Lefteris Papadimas, Giorgos Moutafis and Rami Ayyub; Writing by George Georgiopoulos and Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Giles Elgood, William Maclean and Aurora Ellis)

Forest fire closes in on Turkish power station

By Mert Ozkan and Tuvan Gumrukcu

MILAS, Turkey (Reuters) -A forest fire moved closer to a coal-fired power station in southwestern Turkey on Tuesday evening and wildfires raged near southern resorts for a seventh day as firefighting planes from Spain and Croatia joined the battle to quell them.

Eleven fires were still blazing, fanned by strong winds, temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), and low humidity, officials said. Plumes of black smoke rose from hillsides and forests near the coastal resorts of Bodrum and Marmaris.

“The situation is very serious. The flames have come to the edge of the thermal power plant,” Muhammet Tokat, mayor of Milas to the east of the major resort Bodrum, said on Twitter.

He shared a video taken from a vessel at sea showing a fire blazing on a hillside under a night sky, a few hundred meters from the illuminated Kemerkoy power station and called for a plane or helicopter with night vision to be sent to the area.

Two firefighting planes from Spain and one from Croatia joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan to battle blazes on Tuesday, after Turkey requested European support.

The mayors of the southern resort cities of Bodrum and Antalya have pleaded for more planes this week as the fires raged near Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.

A village near Milas was evacuated with flames engulfing houses and buildings, Reuters TV footage showed.

Opposition parties criticized President Tayyip Erdogan and his government for depleting firefighting resources over the years. Thousands also took to social media calling for Erdogan to step down, while others criticized the lack of resources and what they called inadequate preparations.

“To say it frankly, Turkey is not being managed,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “The government of the (presidential) palace has rendered our state incapable.”

Responding to criticism that the government had rejected some offers of international help, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had assessed many proposals, prioritizing offers of planes and helicopters.

He said some countries, including France and Greece, rescinded their offers because of their own needs and fires. Israel’s foreign ministry said it discussed the situation with Turkish officials but was told Turkey did not need assistance.

Turkey’s radio and television watchdog RTUK told broadcasters on Tuesday that negative coverage of the fires could encourage “an atmosphere of chaos”, harming the public’s and firefighters’ morale. It warned the media of the “harshest punishments” if they did not adhere to RTUK’s principles.

The heatwave that has fueled the fires came after months of exceptionally dry weather in Turkey’s southwest, according to maps issued by meteorological authorities.

Data from the European Forest Fire Information Service showed there have been three times as many fires as usual this year, while the more than 136,000 hectares burnt in Turkey were three times the area burnt on average in an entire year.

Eight people have been killed in a total of 156 wildfires which have erupted in the last week. There were no reports of further casualties on Tuesday.

The government is investigating the cause of the fires, including possible arson. Authorities caught one person who tried to light a fire outside a military compound in the southwestern province of Denizli, the Defense Ministry said.

Since Wednesday, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and some tourists fled their hotels by boat or by road, although Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said holidaymakers had returned within hours.

(Reporting by Mert Ozkan, Mehmet Emin Caliskan in Marmaris and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)