Ankara angry as Israel charges Turkish tourist with aiding Hamas

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Ebru Özkan was hit by charges of smuggling money and packages to Hamas.

Ebru Özkan is at risk of being jailed. (Reuters pic)

JERUSALEM: Israel charged a detained Turkish tourist on Sunday with helping to smuggle money and packages to Palestinian militant group Hamas, in a case that has angered Ankara, which has vowed to retaliate.

Ebru Özkan, 27, has been held since last month when she was detained trying to board a flight in Tel Aviv. 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 become acrimonious in recent years as Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has solidified his power in Turkey.

Özkan 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 said outside the court: “Come on, really?”

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

Khamaisi said Özkan 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 Özkan 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.

Asked about Özkan’s case on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu referred to her as “our sister” and accused Israel of “taking deterrent measures against our citizens traveling to Jerusalem.”

“However, we will retaliate against this. Our relations will normalize when Israel stops its inhumane policies,” he said without elaborating.

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 nine activists.

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

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