Israeli soldier who killed wounded Palestinian attacker appeals 18 month-sentence

Three of Elor Azaria's defence attorneys have quit, saying they oppose the appeal

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An Israel Defence Force (IDF) medic sentenced to 18 months in prison for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant has appealed against a manslaughter conviction that could have sent him to jail for a maximum 20-year term.

Three of Elor Azaria's defence attorneys announced they were quitting after the appeal was announced.

In a statement, they said he had received a "fantastic and seemingly impossible" sentence, appearing to suggest he should not put it at risk.

Azaria's trial was one of the most divisive in Israel's history.

In one opinion poll, nearly half of Israeli Jews said any Palestinian attacker should be killed on the spot.

Eleven months ago, Azaria was serving as an army medic in the town of Hebron in the occupied West Bank when two Palestinians stabbed and wounded another soldier.

One of the assailants was shot dead by troops. The other was shot and wounded. Eleven minutes later, as the wounded man, Abd Elfatah Ashareef, 21, lay on the ground unable to move, Azaria, then 19, took aim with his rifle and fatally shot him.

A three-judge military court convicted Azaria of manslaughter last month. It rejected his contention that he believed the man still posed a threat, admitting into evidence a video of the incident recorded by a Palestinian rights activist.

Imposing punishment lighter than a three-to-five year sentence requested by the prosecution, the court noted the Hebron incident had been Azaria's first combat experience and that his record had been unblemished.

The Palestinian government said the term imposed by the court had given Israeli soldiers a "green light" to carry out "executions without fear of real punishment".

In the statement announcing their resignation, the three defence lawyers also said that while they believed Azaria never should have been convicted, they had proposed to the soldier and his family that he pursue other options.

Those include a presidential pardon — which cannot be considered while an appeal process is ongoing — or a procedure in which an a military general can opt to reduce his sentence.

In the petition to a military appeals court, Azaria's remaining lawyer asked that the start of his incarceration be deferred until the end of legal proceedings.

Prosecutors, who have yet to decide whether to lodge an appeal for a stiffer sentence, had originally considered charging Azaria with murder. But they said it would have been difficult to meet the legal requirement of showing premeditation. 

Additional reporting by Reuters