Turkey Extends Detention of Israeli Couple Who Photographed Palace Until Trial

Israelis Natalie and Mordi Oknin were arrested after taking a picture of Dolmabahce Palace, once used as a presidential residence, while sailing on a ferry in Turkey

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Natalie and Mordi Oknin in Istanbul, last week.
Natalie and Mordi Oknin in Istanbul, last week.Credit: Facebook

A Turkish court has extended the detention of an Israeli couple who photographed a palace once used to house Turkish heads of state, Israeli sources familiar with the matter said. The couple will remain in custody until the start of their trial, the court said Friday.

On Tuesday, Natalie and Mordi Oknin, both residents of Modi'in in their 40s, were arrested on suspicion of espionage after photographing the Dolmabahce Palace while sailing on a ferry.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the first Israeli official to address the matter, said Friday evening he was in contact with the couple's family and ruled out that they might have been working for an Israeli agency. The Foreign Ministry hopes an official from the ministry will visit the couple as soon as possible, Lapid added.

The couple's lawyer, Nir Yaslovitzh, said Turkey's state prosecution was indeed seeking a charge of espionage.

"Their only offense involves their photographing Erdogan's palace during an innocent boat trip," he said, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Speaking with Israeli public broadcaster Kan, Yaslovitzh said the decision to extend the couples' detention "worries me. If a Russian national had taken a picture of the palace, I don't think Turkey would have arrested him. Turkey didn't even tell Israel's consul about the incident."

Dolmabahce Palace served as the president's residence until 1923. Today it is a museum, but recently an order was issued not to photograph the site. 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Thursday that it was in touch with both the Turkish authorities and the couple's family. 

Natalie Oknin's sister told the Ynet news site that day that her sister had sent the photograph to the family's chat group on WhatsApp.

"They wrote 'Look at Erdogan's house. Look how beautiful it is,'" the sister said. The arrested couple have not been in touch with their family, the sister added, and a missing person's complaint has been filed.

The two arrested Israelis work as bus drivers in Israel and have a son together, in addition to four children from previous marriages.

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