Israel releases Turkish woman held for aiding Hamas

Ebru Ozkan, 27, was charged last week with smuggling perfume, money for terror group; Israeli officials agree to let her leave country and freeze proceedings against her

Ebru Özkan, a Turkish woman arrested in Israel on suspicion of aiding Hamas. (Courtesy)
Ebru Özkan, a Turkish woman arrested in Israel on suspicion of aiding Hamas. (Courtesy)

A Turkish woman arrested by Israel for allegedly transferring money to Hamas operatives last month was released Monday and is now in Turkey, according to Turkish media.

Ebru Ozkan, 27, was charged last week in an Israeli military court with passing hundreds of dollars to the Hamas terrorist organization, security sources said.

The Shin Bet security service said Ozkan was arrested last month “on suspicion of posing a threat to national security and for having links to a terrorist organization.”

She was detained at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport on June 11 as she was leaving the country to return to Turkey.

Over a month later, early on Monday, she finally got on a plane to Istanbul.

At the airport in Istanbul she was met by reporters, according to the Turkish outlet Daily Sabah. “Thank God it is over. I am in my country, I am at peace,” she reportedly said. She also thanked Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “He was kind enough to be very interested in my case.”

Ozkan was released from detention on Wednesday pending her trial, but was under a travel ban and had had her passport taken from her.

According to her Israeli lawyers, officials initially offered to let her leave the country if she admitted to carrying out the crimes she is suspected to have committed. After she refused, Israel released her anyway, ordering her out of the country, and reportedly suspending the legal proceedings against her on the grounds that she “cannot be located” in Turkey. That suggests she was released under conditions that would make it difficult for her to return to Israel.

Last week’s indictment against Ozkan accused her of smuggling objects, including perfume and a phone charger, as well as $500 into Israel and then the West Bank in the service of Hamas members. She was charged on four separate counts.

In the indictment, Ozkan was accused of smuggling five bottles of expensive perfume with the intention of selling them and transferring the proceeds to Hamas as part of a money laundering scheme.

Her lawyer Omar Khamaisi reacted with incredulity to the charge.

“Come on, really?” he told the Reuters news agency last week. “I think that in this case the decision will ultimately be a brave one – to release her, I hope.”

According to the indictment, Ozkan never met up with the Hamas member to give him the phone charger. On the money transfer charge, Khamaisi said that Ozkan was simply shuttling the $500 from a friend to a Palestinian relative and couldn’t have known that the relative was a Hamas operative, according to Haaretz.

However, the indictment noted that Ozkan had been paid $100 for her service and that the friend had paid for her flight.

Khamaisi also said that interrogations were conducted in Arabic, a language Ozkan doesn’t speak well, and that she has said the Hebrew translation read out in court “distorted” her words.

Ozkan wasn’t permitted to speak with family members during her detention. They have held several media conferences in Turkey to decry her fate.

The case against Ozkan came as tensions have spiked between Turkey and Israel after Ankara ordered out the Jewish state’s ambassador in May over ongoing deadly Gaza border clashes.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week his officials were in contact with the Israelis over Ozkan’s case and called for an end to its “pitiless persecutions.”

“We will retaliate against this. Our relations will normalize when Israel stops its inhumane policies,” he said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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