Israel freed a Turkish woman accused of ties to Hamas after President Donald Trump asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do so as part of a deal to get Ankara to release a US pastor, according to a report.
Ebru Özkan was arrested last month during a visit to Israel as a tourist and was indicted July 8 for smuggling money and goods to the Palestinian Islamist militant group. Her lawyers completely denied the charges, and the entire situation has stirred up an angry Turkey.
Özkan was released the day after the July 14 Trump-Netanyahu phone call, after a month in detention, according to the Israeli Haaretz newspaper.
Israeli officials had been tight-lipped about the reason for the action but told Haaretz the 27-year-old was deported, not released, and that she would have been deported anyway eventually.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump had asked Netanyahu to let Özkan go in a “trade” for Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who has spent 21 months in Turkish detention.
“I can confirm that there was such a request by President Trump,” an Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, without elaborating.
According to the Israeli paper, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said: “Media reports claiming that Ebru Özkan was released in Israel in return for the release of Andrew Brunson are completely baseless and unreal.”
Aksoy added in a statement that an Israeli court decided on her conditional release on July 9, and she returned to Turkey after being freed and awaiting trial.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem had no immediate comment Friday.
Brunson, who denies ties to a group Ankara says was behind a failed 2016 coup, was moved to house arrest Wednesday, made the Trump administration threaten sanctions against NATO ally Turkey, according to The New York Post.
The pastor denies the charges put forth against him.
According to the Washington Post, the swap request didn’t come out of thin air but was the partial result of Trump and Erdoğan during their July 11 meeting at a NATO summit having an aside, though the state said no Özkan-Brunson exchange had ever been set.
“Those reports are completely baseless,” a senior Turkish official said, according to Reuters. “The Turkish government has no intention of meddling in the affairs of the country’s independent judiciary.”
Özkan had been held by Israel on “bogus terrorism charges,” the official added.
At the time of her release, another Israeli official told Reuters that one of the many reasons to release her was because regardless of her innocence or guilt, prosecutors would have a hard time making their case in this instance based on the circumstances and available evidence, though the case is still technically pending.
By: Ann Bundy
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