Turkey to allow diplomat to visit espionage-accused Israeli couple

Turkey to allow diplomat to visit espionage-accused Israeli couple
Israel has reportedly bolstered its consular presence in Istanbul amid efforts to secure the release of an Israeli couple accused by Turkey of espionage.
2 min read
16 November, 2021
The couple were arrested after taking photos of the Dolmabahce Palace [Getty]

An Israeli diplomatic representative will visit an Israeli couple held in Istanbul on suspicion of espionage, Israel’s foreign ministry said on Monday.

Turkey gave permission for a member of Israel's consular staff to visit the couple after "intense diplomatic efforts" between Ankara and Tel Aviv, the ministry said in a statement quoted by Haaretz.

Israeli citizens Natalie and Mordi Oknin were arrested last Tuesday in Istanbul after photographing the Dolmabahce Palace - an important historical building in Turkey - on a boat trip.

The palace was a former residence of Turkish presidents but is not used by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The couple had been taking photos from the top of the Camlica TV and Radio Tower when staff at the building's restaurant reported them. 

An Istanbul court accused the pair of “political and military espionage” and ruled that they must remain in detention until trial.

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Israel has denied all charges against the couple, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett saying on Saturday that they "do not work for any Israeli agency".

"The most senior echelons in Israel dealt with this issue throughout the weekend, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and will continue to work tirelessly with the aim of finding a solution as soon as possible," he said.

Israeli and Turkey withdrew their respective ambassadors in 2017 amid a spat over the United States' controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Amid efforts to secure the Okonins' release, Israel has sent the head of the foreign ministry's consular division, Rina Djerassi, to "strengthen" its staff in Istanbul, according to Haaretz.