Bennett: Israeli Couple Arrested in Turkey for Espionage Are 'Innocent Civilians'

The Israeli prime minister tells a cabinet meeting the Foreign Ministry is working toward the couple's release, amid concerns Ankara is trying to leverage the incident for political gains

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

Prime Minster Naftali Bennett said on Sunday the two Israeli tourists held in Turkey over espionage charges are "two innocent civilians who were caught up in a complicated situation," adding the Foreign Ministry and government officials are working toward securing their release.

Speaking at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Bennett said he spoke with Natalie and Mordi Oknin's family and assured them Israel was "doing everything we can to resolve this issue."

Earlier on Sunday Bennett met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and other officials to review the situation.

The couple was taken into custody last week, and a Turkish court extended their detention on Friday by 20 days.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency reported they photographed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's residence from the Camlica Tower, a telecommunications tower in Istanbul with observation decks.

However, the building in question, the waterfront Dolmabahce Palace, has not been used as an official residence for decades. A recent order bars photographing the palace, which is also a popular tourist attraction.

Anadolu said an employee tipped off the police after seeing the couple take pictures of Erdogan's residence from the tower's restaurant.

It said a Turkish national, who was with the couple, was also arrested on charges of political and military espionage, which their lawyer has denied.

State officials who examined the chain of events had difficulty over the weekend deciphering whether the arrest was motivated by Turkish national interests.

Turkish officials have not made any demands for releasing the couple nor have they used the arrest to apply pressure on Israel. Moreover, Turkey has given hardly any information regarding the findings of the investigation which led to the decision to extend the arrest.

In an unusual move, President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Lapid released statements over the weekend officially proclaiming that the couple was not working for any Israeli agency.

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