Soccer star Sagiv Jehezkel lands in Israel after hostage controversy in Turkey

National team forward, detained in Turkey for goal tribute to hostages, now free and back in Israel after deportation; 'I've been through much,' he says; Shin Bet chief involved in athlete's release

Itamar Eichner, Roy Rubinstein|
Sagiv Jehezkel lands in Israel
(Video: Ben Gurion Airport)

Soccer star Sagiv Jehezkel landed safely in Israel on Monday after he was arrested by Turkish authorities for dedicating a goal celebration to Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip.
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Upon his arrival, fans thronged to the airport to greet him, lifting him on their shoulders while he proudly waved the Israeli flag. Amid the enthusiastic cheers of local fans, he expressed his joy, saying, "I am extremely happy to be here in Israel. There is truly no place like it."
2 View gallery
שגיב יחזקאל נוחת בנתב"ג
שגיב יחזקאל נוחת בנתב"ג
Fans lifting Sagiv Jehezkel after his return from Turkey
(Photo: Yariv Katz)
Reflecting on his journey, he acknowledged the challenges he had faced but emphasized that he was now in a positive state of mind, saying, "I've been through much. At this moment, my emotions are positive. I saw this coming."
Did you think you'd be here just 24 hours ago? "I didn't know anything 24 hours ago, or even this morning. I'm just glad to be here. I haven't spoken to anyone yet. I just want to relax with my family."
What do you say to other Israeli soccer players in Turkey? "No one is afraid of anything. They're fine."
Jehezkel 'was arrested on Sunday after he scored the equalizer for his club Antalyaspor in a 1-1 draw against Trabzonspor in the Turkish premier league, and celebrated by making a half-heart sign to the camera, with "100 days" written on the bandage on his arm.
As part of the effort to secure his release, Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar spoke to his Turkish counterpart Ibrahim Kalin.
Ibrahim Kalin, director of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, is a former adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is known as a moderate who was deeply involved in previous reconciliation efforts between the two countries.
Despite Erdogan's characterization of Israel as a "terrorist state" and his support for Hamas, diplomatic engagements between Israeli and Turkish officials persist. Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Irit Lilian, who was recalled to Israel after relations between the two countries began to sour, spoke to her Turkish counterpart to help secure the deal that brought Jehezkel home. The National Security Council was also involved in the efforts.
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שחקן אנטליהספור שגיב יחזקאל עם מחוה לחטופים
שחקן אנטליהספור שגיב יחזקאל עם מחוה לחטופים
Jehezkel's goal celebration
(Photo: Antalyaspor)
On Sunday, Turkish Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc announced that prosecutors launched an investigation against Jehezkel on charges of "inciting people to hatred and hostility" over his gesture, but Israeli officials estimate that Turkey realized that pursuing this matter any further would prove fruitless, thus choosing to agree to the deal.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement, "Following diplomatic efforts, soccer player Sagiv Jehezkel was released from detention. In the past 24 hours, under the guidance of Foreign Minister Israel Katz, the ministry engaged with the relevant Turkish authorities to secure Jehezkel's release, following his gesture to commemorate the Israeli hostages after 100 days in captivity."

Not the only Israeli soccer player in trouble in Turkey

Meanwhile, another Israeli soccer player, Eden Kartsev, who plays as a defensive midfielder for Istanbul-based club Başakşehir, is expected to be expelled from the club after posting a call to release the hostages to his Instagram account.
Though initially dismissed, the matter was then reexamined following harsh reactions from fans. The club released a statement saying it launched an investigation into Kartsev's actions for allegedly violating the club's disciplinary rules and hurting Turkey's "sensitive values."
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