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An Israeli footballer who was detained in Turkey after paying tribute to the victims of the October 7 attack during a match has been repatriated in a dispute that inflamed tensions between the two countries.
Sagiv Jehezkel, a forward for the Antalyaspor team, was taken into custody and suspended by his Turkish club after the incident on Sunday, when he pointed to his wrist strapping on which a Star of David as well as “100 days” and “7.10” had been written after he scored in a Turkish Süper Lig match.
The display was widely seen as a reference to the hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza 100 days after the militant group’s assault on the Jewish state.
Turkish prosecutors opened an investigation into Jehezkel for “the crime of publicly inciting public hatred and hostility due to his ugly action supporting the massacre committed by Israel in Gaza”, Turkish justice minister Yılmaz Tunç wrote on social media platform X.
The detention drew an angry reaction from Israel, with defence minister Yoav Gallant accusing Turkey of acting as the “executive arm” of Hamas, and foreign minister Israel Katz claiming it had become a “dark dictatorship”, and calling on international sporting organisations to punish Ankara.
Israel’s foreign ministry also said that Jehezkel, 28, had been released from detention and would return to Israel later on Monday. Turkish state media later said he had returned to his country by private plane.
Jehezkel, who joined Antalyaspor last year, has protested his innocence. “I did not do anything to provoke or provoke anyone. I am not a pro-war person,” according to a statement carried by local media. He added: “The point I wanted to draw attention to was the end of the war.”
His club had accused their player of acting “against the national values of our country”, with the state Anadolu news agency reporting that Jehezkel had been excluded from the team and that the club was working to end his contract.
The incident will exacerbate strains between Turkey and Israel, which had sought to mend relations before October 7.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly claimed that Israel has committed “genocide” in Gaza, and compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler. Ankara has also accused Israel of spying on its territory.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has criticised Turkey’s support of Hamas and its treatment of Kurdish minorities, saying Erdoğan was the “last person who can preach morality to us”.
Jehezkel is not the first footballer to face censure over actions related to the war in Gaza. Youcef Atal, an Algerian who plays for Nice in France, was this month handed an eight-month suspended sentence by a French court for inciting religious hatred in a social media post about the conflict.
Football is widely followed in Turkey and actions on the pitch frequently carry broader political, social and cultural resonance. Football fans played a role in nationwide protests against Erdoğan’s government in 2013 and publicly criticised the leader last February at matches following a devastating earthquake.
The Antalyaspor incident is the second scandal in Turkish football in recent weeks. Turkish league play was suspended for several days in December after an Ankara club president punched a referee in the face.
Israel declared war on Hamas after its militants stormed into the country on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking a further 240 hostage, according to Israeli officials. Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza has so far killed more than 23,000 people, according to Palestinian officials, and displaced 1.9mn of the enclave’s 2.3mn inhabitants.
Additional reporting by Funja Güler in Ankara
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