Israeli Couple Freed From Turkish Prison Return to Israel

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak with Mordy and Natalie Oknin Thursday morning. (PMO)

The Israeli couple detained in Turkey for photographing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s home have returned to Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Mordy and Natalie Oknin returned to Israel, in a joint statement Thursday morning.

Bennett and Lapid also thanked Erdogan for his efforts to secure their release. A senior diplomatic official told Yisrael Hayom that “Erdogan’s intervention brought the incident to an end.”

“We would like to express our great appreciation to the Oknin family for staying strong in a complex situation, as well as for the open and warm cooperation with the Foreign Ministry. Special thanks to state President Yitzchak Herzog for his efforts to bring them home,” Bennett and Lapid said in a joint statement.

“Welcome to Israel,” Herzog said. “Natalie and Mordy, how good it is that you’ve come home. I warmly embrace you and your families. I congratulate the Prime Minister and foreign minister and all those who… worked to bring the Oknins home. I thank the Turkish President and his government for the cooperation.”

Mordy Oknin stands on his balcony hours after he and his wife Natalie arrived at their home in Modi’in, on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

In a statement, the President’s Residence noted, “There are many talks with relevant officials behind the scenes.”

Addressing the press from the balcony of the couple’s Modi’in residence, Natalie said, “Thank you to the Prime Minister and the foreign minister. Thank you to the President of the country. Thank you to everyone in Israel. Thank you to everyone who helped and supported [us]. Thank you to [Mod’iin] Mayor Chaim Bibas and the Modi’in municipality, the Egged family. Thank you to attorney Nir Yaslovizh.”

Speaking to the press outside the couple’s home, their attorney said, “There was an arrest, and they checked what needed to be checked. I am a man of the law, an attorney doing his job. The effort was in combination with the diplomatic system. The encounter in prison was very emotional, accompanied by tears. My objective was to bolster them and bring them back to Israel safe and sound – in a good mental state. We were up to the task.”

The Oknins learned they would be freed Wednesday afternoon.

A senior official told Yisrael Hayom that the Mossad agency had intervened to secure the Oknins’ release. At the same time, a senior diplomatic official clarified that “the Turks were not rewarded for the Oknin couple’s release.”

Talks with the Turks were conducted via several channels in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, the Mossad and the National Security Council.

According to the Prime Minister, the family’s restraint was really “vital” to their release.

The Oknins departed for Israel once the judge in their case decided to accept their appeal.

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

“This certainly could have spiraled into a needless crisis,” Kahana told 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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