Ankara angry as Israel charges Turkish tourist with aiding Hamas

#Diplomacy

Case further strains ties between Israel and Turkey, which once enjoyed solid relations but have seen them deteriorate in recent years

Turkish citizen Ebru Ozkan is brought before an Israeli military court on Sunday (Reuters)
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Monday 9 July 2018 10:50 UTC
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Israel charged and detained a Turkish tourist on Sunday with helping smuggle money and packages to Palestinian group Hamas, in a case that has angered Ankara, which has vowed to retaliate.

Ebru Ozkan, 27, was detained at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on 11 June as she was leaving the country to return to her homeland. One of the charges she faces is for smuggling five bottles of perfume, which her lawyer ridiculed as trivial, saying she should be released.

The case has further strained relations between Israel and Turkey, both US allies who once enjoyed friendly ties but have seen them deteriorate in recent years as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has solidified his power in Turkey.

In May, relations between Israel and Turkey sank to a fresh low after expelling each other’s envoys amid an acerbic war of words following tensions since 30 March when Israel met largely peaceful mass protests near the fence separating Israel from Gaza with lethal force.

Palestinians began the Great March of Return protests to call for the right of return for refugees forcefully displaced from their towns and villages in 1948 when the state of Israel was created. At least 136 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces mainly through sniper fire and teargas. There have been no Israeli fatalities. 

In response to the violence, Erdogan took to social media to accuse Israel of being “a terror state” that was committing “genocide” against Palestinians, the Times of Israel said.

Ozkan was led, manacled, to the dock in an Israeli military court on the boundary with the occupied West Bank, where she was indicted on two counts of acting in the service of a proscribed group, one count of transferring money for enemy agents, and one count of threatening public order.

If convicted, she could face several years in jail.

Though she is accused of having also brought other items, prosecutors put at the top of the list her smuggling of five bottles of perfume to be sold to raise funds for Hamas.

In response to that charge, her lawyer Omara Khamaisi told Reuters outside the court: "Come on, really?"

"I think that in this case the decision will ultimately be a brave one - to release her, I hope."

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Khamaisi said Ozkan had been denied access to legal counsel for most of her detention and had not been interrogated in Turkish, leading to distortions in the way her answers to questions were recorded.

The indictment did not give specifics on where the alleged offences took place. Khamaisi said Ozkan had spent three days in Jerusalem during her stay.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip under de facto Israeli blockade. Hamas is classified as a terrorist group by Israel and the West, but not by NATO-member Turkey.

'We will retaliate'

Asked about Ozkan's case on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu referred to her as "our sister" and accused Israel of "taking deterrent measures against our citizens travelling to Jerusalem".

He called for an end to Israel’s "pitiless persecutions" and added: “We will retaliate against this. Our relations will normalise when Israel stops its inhumane policies."

Turkey and Israel once had a bedrock security partnership. But the relationship has deteriorated over the last decade, with Ankara condemning three Israeli wars in Gaza. Ties were ruptured after Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid flotilla trying to reach Gaza in 2010, killing ten activists.

Muslims account for a small percentage of incoming tourists to Israel. In 2016, most of them, about 100,000, came from Turkey.