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Erdogan calls for dialogue between Turkey and Israel

Rare phone call between Turkish and Israeli presidents comes hours after a detained Israeli couple were released in Istanbul
Israeli couple Mordi and Natalie Oknin, who were held in Turkey for a week on suspicion of espionage, are greeted upon their arrival in the Israeli city of Modiin on 18 November 2021 (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a call with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, a few hours after an Israeli couple held in Turkey for a week on suspicion of spying were released. 

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According to the Turkish presidency, Erdogan told Herzog during the rare phone call that the continuation of contact and dialogue between the two countries was in their "mutual interest".

Erdogan added that Turkish-Israeli relations were necessary for security and stability in the Middle East. 

"Disagreements could be reduced to a minimum if both sides acted in mutual understanding in terms of bilateral and regional issues," he told Herzog.

The Israeli couple, Mordi and Natali Oknin, were detained last week for allegedly taking a photograph of Erdogan's home in Istanbul and were later charged by a court with "political and military espionage".

The couple denied the charges, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid insisted that they were not employees of any intelligence agency. 

A statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: "After joint efforts with Turkey, Mordi and Natali Oknin were released from prison and are on their way home to Israel."

As a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, the Turkish president has regularly accused Israel of "terrorism" against Palestinians, straining relations between the two countries.

In 2018, Turkey and Israel expelled each other's ambassadors, after Ankara protested against the killing of 60 of Palestinians during protests on the Gaza border against the opening of the US embassy in occupied Jerusalem.

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