By ALON BERNSTEIN
MODIIN, Israel (AP) — An Israeli couple held by Turkey on suspicion of espionage returned home on Thursday after they were released from a weeklong detention.
Mordi and Natalie Oknin arrived to their home in central Israel where they were greeted by family and a crowd of reporters. From her apartment’s balcony, Natalie thanked all those involved in securing their release.
A statement by Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister earlier announced the release and also expressed gratitude to the president and government of Turkey.
There was no official statement from Turkish officials on the release. Turkey’s private DHA news agency reported that a Turkish citizen who was arrested along with the couple was also released.
Following the release, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke, a rare outreach between the leaders of both countries with relations at a low in recent years. Herzog, who holds a ceremonial role, thanked Erdogan “for his personal involvement and contribution” to securing the Oknins’ release.
According to both of their offices, Erdogan emphasized the importance of ties between the countries, and they both highlighted the need to focus on regional peace. The leaders agreed to remain in touch, Herzog’s office said.
Once robust regional allies, relations between Israel and Turkey have been at a nadir throughout Erdogan’s rule, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. The couple’s arrest threatened to further weaken the relationship, but Israeli officials said the incident showed that the countries’ diplomatic channels remained intact.
The couple was arrested for espionage last week after taking photographs of the Turkish president’s residence in Istanbul, Turkey’s official news agency reported at the time.
Anadolu Agency said a Turkish national was also arrested. Police detained the three individuals after a tip-off from an employee working in a radio and television tower on the Asian side of Istanbul.
The employee claimed the couple had been taking photographs of Erdogan’s nearby home from the tower’s restaurant.
They were formally arrested and awaiting trial for “political and military espionage” by an Istanbul court.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid denied after the detention that the couple worked for an Israeli agency.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.
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