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Turkey releases Israeli footballer in Gaza war spat

A Turkish court on Monday released pending trial an Israeli footballer who was detained after displaying a message referring to the Israel-Hamas war during a first division match.

Sagiv Jehezkel, 28, displayed a bandage on his wrist reading “100 days. 07/10” next to a Star of David when he celebrated scoring a goal for Antalyaspor against Trabzonspor on Sunday.

Turkish prosecutors launched a criminal investigation over Jehezkel’s alleged “incitement to hate”, and his club tore up the player’s contract for “exhibiting behaviour that goes against our country’s sensitivities”.

NTV television reported that a private plane had been sent from Israel on Monday to pick up Jehezkel and his family so that they could return home.

Jehezkel’s detention was furiously condemned on Monday by top Israeli officials, sending relations between the two regional powers to a new low.

In testimony to the police, Jehezkel said he “did not intend to provoke anyone”. 

“I am not a pro-war person,” the private DHA news agency reported him as saying.

The message on the bandage referred to the 100 days since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, which was marked on Sunday.

On October 7, Hamas militants launched an attack in Israel, killing about 1,140 people and abducting around 250 others, 132 of whom remain in Gaza, according to Israeli officials.

In retaliation, Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and launched a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 23,968 people in the Palestinian territory, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

‘Never disrespected anyone’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become one of the Muslim world’s harshest critics of Israel over the scale of death and destruction happening in Gaza.

Jehezkel displayed the Star of David – the official symbol on the Israeli flag.

He said he never intended to get involved in politics and was careful to respect Turkish cultural sensitivities since signing with the Mediterranean coast club in September.

“After all, there are also Israeli soldiers taken prisoner in Gaza. I am someone who believes that this 100-day period should end now. I want the war to end. That’s why I showed the sign,” he reportedly told the police. 

“Since the day I arrived, I have never disrespected anyone. The point I wanted to draw attention to was the end of the war,” he said.

Antalyaspor said it had sacked Jehezkel, accusing him of having “acted against the values of our country”.

“Our board will never allow behaviour against the sensitivities of our country no matter if it costs championship or trophy,” the club said on X, formerly Twitter. 

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) also condemned what it said was “completely unacceptable behaviour” by Jehezkel and said Antalyaspor’s decision to exclude the player from its team was “appropriate”.

In a separate incident, Istanbul’s top-flight side Basaksehir said it was launching a disciplinary investigation into another Israeli player, Eden Karzev, for reposting a social media message about the hostages reading: “Bring Them Home Now”.

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