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Netanyahu 'bars officials' from commenting on Kurdish referendum

Israel is one of the few foreign backers of the Kurdish referendum. [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 September, 2017

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has barred government officials from commenting on Monday's Kurdish independence vote, despite endorsing the referendum in September as one of its sole global backers.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has barred government officials from commenting on Monday's Kurdish independence vote, despite endorsing the referendum in September as one of its sole global backers.

Iraq's Kurds defied widespread opposition to vote on Monday in a historic independence referendum, sparking fresh tensions with Baghdad and threats from Turkey while Washington warned it would "increase instability".

When asked for a comment on the referendum, one Israeli cabinet minister told Reuters that "Bibi [Netanyahu] asked us not to", while a second official said the subject was "too sensitive".

Netanyahu's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, viewing the minority ethnic group - whose indigenous population is split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran - as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.

Earlier in September, Netanyahu said "(Israel) supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state."

On Monday, centrist Israeli lawmaker Yair Lapid, a former minister in Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, wrote on social media that the "Jewish people know what it is to struggle for a homeland. The Kurds have a moral right to a state of their own. I wish them luck today."

Some Kurdish officials have tried to distance themselves from Israel's support, with one Kurdish official telling Reuters that "our adversaries attack us as a 'second Israel in the region' and this kind of Israeli talk contributes to that."

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Netanyahu's position on the Kurds affected Ankara's relations with Israel, which have long been troubled.

Turkey, which had recently warned that the referendum could result in a global conflict, threatened to cut off the pipeline that carries oil out of northern Iraq. 

Ankara, which views Kurdish separatist militias as terror organisations, has long opposed the referendum and threatened to cut Erbil's lifeline.

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