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Mordi Oknin, center, stands on the balcony of their house after he and his wife were released. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
The couple, both bus drivers, were in Turkey on holiday.Image: Ariel Schalit/AP Photo/picture alliance

Turkey releases Israeli couple accused of spying

November 18, 2021

Mordi and Natalie Oknin have arrived home in central Israel after a weeklong detention. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked Turkish President Erdogan for his help in securing the couple's release.


An Israeli couple held in Turkey on suspicion of espionage for the past week were released on Thursday, the Israeli government said. 

The couple, Mordi and Natalie Oknin arrived at their home in Modiin, in central Israel. "Thank you to the entire nation of Israel. Thank you to everyone who helped and supported and got us freed," Natalie told reporters after landing. 

After being greeted by a crowd of family and reporters at their home, they thanked those involved with their release. "Mordi and Natali, welcome home!" tweeted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. 

Later Thursday, Bennett's office said the prime minister spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and thanked him for helping secure the couple's release.

It was the first conversation between an Israeli prime minister and Turkey's president since 2013, according to Bennett's office.

Why did Turkey arrest the Israeli couple?

Family members said the couple, both drivers for Israel's biggest bus company, were in Turkey on holiday.

The pair were arrested last week after taking pictures of President Erdogan's residence in Istanbul, the official Anadolu news agency reported at the time. A Turkish national was also detained. 

Police arrested them after receiving a complaint from an employee of a radio and television tower in Istanbul. The witness said he had seen them take pictures of the president's residence from the tower.

They were charged with "political and military espionage" and were awaiting trial. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had denied that they work for any Israeli agency.

A senior envoy had been sent to seek their release. Bennett and Lapid both thanked the Turkish government for their cooperation in a joint statement.

"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," said Matan Kahana, an Israeli cabinet minister.

The two nations' previously cordial ties have deteriorated during Erdogan's rule, since he is a vocal critic of Israel's policies towards Palestine.

tg/rt   (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

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