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Netanyahu wants pardon for Israeli soldier in manslaughter case

The killing was caught on video and deeply divided the country.

Updated: 21.00

Mideast Israel Palestinians Sgt. Elor Azaria, sits inside the Israeli military court. Source: Ariel Schalit/PA Images

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu says he favours a pardon for an Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a Palestinian assailant as he lay wounded.

Elor Azaria had been on trial in a military court since May, with right-wing politicians defending him despite top army brass harshly condemning his actions.

“This has been a hard and painful day for us all. first and foremost for Elor and his family,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.

“I support giving a pardon to Elor Azaria,” he added.

Judge Colonel Maya Heller said that there had been no reason for Azaria to open fire since the Palestinian was posing no threat.

“His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die,” she said.

The 24 March shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video and spread widely online.

It prompted intense political debate, with Netanyahu making waves when he called Azaria’s father to express his sympathy.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin’s office issued a statement shortly after today’s court ruling, advising that any talk of a pardon was premature.

It said that an application could only be made by Azaria himself, his lawyer or close relatives, and then only after the judicial process had run its course.

Sentencing is expected at a later date for the 20-year-old French-Israeli sergeant. He faces up to 20 years in prison and can appeal.

“In the event that a pardon should be requested, it will be considered by the president in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities,” the presidential statement said.

Azaria’s demeanour drastically changed as the judge read the verdict.

Dressed in a green army uniform, he had entered the courtroom smiling, with family members and supporters applauding him.

But he and his family later looked shaken as the judge spoke, with his mother and father huddling together.

After the verdict, his mother yelled:

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Israel Soldier Supporters of the Israeli soldier outside the Tel Aviv courthouse. Source: Ariel Schalit/PA Images

Azaria was 19 at the time of the killing in March 2016 in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank.

Protests outside

In a sign of the tensions surrounding the case, dozens of protesters scuffled with police as they gathered outside Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where the verdict was announced.

They held a sign that read: “People of Israel do not abandon a soldier in the battlefield”.

Source: BBC News/YouTube

 

Before he became Israeli defence minister in May, Avigdor Lieberman was among those showing strong support for Azaria, including attending one of his court appearances.

He has since backed away from his earlier stance and, immediately after today’s verdict, said he disagreed with the decision but that it must be respected.

“I call on politicians to stop attacking the security establishment and the army and its chief of staff,” he said.

Others however, from what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, maintained their hardline position.

“He’s our son, our child,” Culture Minister Miri Regev told Israeli television, saying Azaria should not have faced a criminal trial.

The case burst into public view when a video of the March shooting emerged and spread widely online.

The video showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying on the ground, shot along with another man after stabbing and moderately wounding a soldier minutes earlier, according to the army.

Azaria then shoots him again in the head without any apparent provocation.

His lawyers argued the soldier may have thought the Palestinian was wearing explosives, but others said he had already been checked for a suicide belt and no one in the video appears to be acting with caution toward him.

Source: IN THE NOW/YouTube

Polarised public

Military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has spoken out against the politicisation of the case, warning it could badly harm the army.

He said rules on when to open fire must be followed.

The case galvanised the Israeli public, and television and radio stations interrupted their broadcasts to carry live coverage of the verdict.

It had been portrayed by some as a test of whether Israel’s military could prosecute one of its own, though many Palestinians dismissed it, arguing Azaria was only taken to trial because of the video.

The military has said it began investigating before the release of the video, filmed by a Palestinian volunteer for Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

The shooting came against the backdrop of a wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks that erupted in October 2015.

Israeli security forces have been accused of excessive force in certain other cases as well, though authorities say officers act appropriately to protect themselves and civilians.

Most of the attacks were by lone-wolf assailants, many of them young people, including teenagers. Israel’s military has said it believes a significant number of them were essentially on suicide missions.

The violence has greatly subsided in recent months.

© – AFP 2017

Read: Police arrive at Netanyahu’s home to question him in corruption investigation >

Read: ‘Stay strong Israel’ – Donald Trump tweets criticism of President Obama >

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