An Israeli couple held by Turkey on suspicion of espionage returned home on Thursday after they were released from a weeklong detention.
The couple were arrested and detained last week for allegedly taking photographs of President Tayyip Erdogan's residence during a trip to Istanbul.
Mordi and Natalie Oknin arrived to their home in central Israel where they were greeted by family and a crowd of reporters. From the family's balcony, Natalie thanked all those involved in securing their release.
"Thank you to the entire nation of Israel. Thank you to everyone who helped and supported and got us freed," Oknin told reporters.
They arrived soon after 6am onboard a private jet hired by the Foreign Ministry and were greeted by family members.
Natali Oknin's daughter Shiraz said: "I am in the clouds in a way you can't describe. I want to say thank you so much to the whole country."
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has denied the spying charges against the couple, saying they do not work for any Israeli agency. His government sent a senior emissary to Turkey to help work for their release.
"After joint efforts with Turkey, Mordi and Natali Oknin were released from prison and are on their way home to Israel," Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a joint statement.
"We thank the President of Turkey and his government for their cooperation and look forward to welcoming the couple back home," they said.
Bennett is expected to have a phone conversation with Erdogan later Thursday Israeli prime minister has not held a conversation publicly with the Turkish president since 2013.
Matan Kahana, a cabinet minister, said Turkish authorities had realized that the Oknins were innocent civilians. The Bennett government gave Ankara nothing in return for the couple's release, he added.
"This certainly could have spiraled into a needless crisis," Kahana told Israel's 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.
A Turkish court arrested the Israeli couple on Nov. 12 on charges of espionage for taking photographs of Erdogan's residence from the Camlica Tower, a telecommunications tower in Istanbul with observation decks, Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency reported.
Anadolu said an employee tipped off the police after seeing the couple take pictures of the 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.
First published: 07:24, 11.18.21