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November 18, 2021 9:42 am

Turkey Releases Israeli Couple Held for Photographing Erdogan’s Residence

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Mordi Oknin gestures from his balconny after him and his wife Natali were detained over espionage charges for allegedly taking photographs of President Tayyip Erdogan’s residence during a trip to Istanbul, and Turkey has released them, in his home in Modiin Israel, November 18, 2021 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

Turkey released on Thursday an Israeli couple who had been arrested for photographing President Tayyip Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul and suspected of spying, an allegation denied by Israel.

Mordi and Natali Oknin were detained on Nov 9. A Turk was also arrested on charges of political and military espionage, state-run news agency Anadolu said.

The couple’s family said the pair, drivers for Israel’s biggest bus company, had been on vacation.

The Oknins’ case became a cause celebre in Israel, whose relations with Turkey have been strained for years as the Islamist-rooted Erdogan has championed the Palestinian cause.

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“Thank you to the entire nation of Israel. Thank you to everyone who helped and supported and got us freed,” Natali Oknin told reporters after she and Mordi landed in Tel Aviv aboard a chartered private plane.

Turkish officials did not immediately comment.

Israel had denied the spying charges against the pair, saying they do not work for any state agency, and sent a senior envoy to Turkey to seek their release. In a joint statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid thanked Erdogan and Turkey’s government “for the cooperation.”

Matan Kahana, an Israeli cabinet minister, said Turkish authorities had realized that the Oknins were innocent civilians. The Bennett government gave Ankara nothing in return for the couple’s release, he added.

“This certainly could have spiralled into a needless crisis,” Kahana told Israel’s Army Radio.

“Let’s hope that ties with Turkey will warm. I’m confident that, after days of such intensive contacts, connections were created that will naturally be of service to us in the future,” Kahana said.

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