Benjamin Netanyahu tells people to 'calm down' over soldier shooting disarmed Palestinian man dead

'Our soldiers are not murderers,' Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference in Israel

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 19 April 2016 16:20 BST
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the press on 19 April 2016
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the press on 19 April 2016 (EPA)

Benjamin Netanyahu has told people to "calm down" over the killing of a disarmed Palestinian man in Hebron as protests continue to rage in Israel and the West Bank.

Sergeant Elor Azaria, whose name was previously barred from publication in Israel, was charged with manslaughter on Monday after being caught on camera shooting the wounded man dead.

Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, one of two men who stabbed an Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldier in the West Bank city, was killed some time later when Sgt Azaria fired at his head as he lay incapacitated on the ground.

Elor Azaria is embraced by relatives at a 31 March court hearing over the death of a Palestinian man (Reuters)

The incident on 24 March was filmed by a local resident and provoked outrage as it spread around the world.

As protests both in support and condemnation of Sgt Azaria continued, the Israeli Prime Minister called for calm.

“As the father of a soldier and as Prime Minister, I would like to reiterate: The IDF backs its soldiers,” Mr Netanyahu said.

“I am convinced that an examination of the event in Hebron will be done responsibly and sagaciously.

“In my familiarity with the military justice system, I am convinced that the court will consider all circumstances regarding the incident. Our soldiers are not murderers.

A protest in support of the soldier who was filmed shooting a Palestinian man dead in front of the Israeli Army Justice court in Kiryat Malakhi on March 29, 2016 (AFP/Getty Images)

“They act against murderers and I hope that a way will be found to balance between the action and the overall context of the event. In the meantime I suggest that everyone calms down.”

In a police interview transcript leaked to the Israeli press, Sgt Azaria admitted shooting Mr al-Sharif but insisted he had done nothing wrong.

The 19-year-old army medic told investigators he believed the Palestinian was wearing an explosive vest and was still a threat.

“It’s logical that a terrorist who comes to murder must die,” he added.

Footage of the incident shows the aftermath of the initial attack, with Mr al-Sharif lying in the road moving his head listlessly from side to side as a crowd of soldiers, paramedics and armed settlers move around him, appearing to make no attempts to check his condition.

Palestinian man shot by Israeli soldier as he lies on the ground

Behind him, the injured soldier sits up on a stretcher as he is helped into an ambulance for treatment.

The situation appears calm until Sgt Azaria shouts “stand back!” and shoots Mr al-Sharif in the head at close range.

Imad Abushamsiya, a member of the Human Rights Defenders group who filmed the video, told The Independent he was “terrified” by the shooting, which left him in shock.

Prosecutors told the Jaffa Military Court that the footage had not been tampered with and that Sgt Azaria had fired the fatal shot.

In its indictment, the military prosecution said the soldier “acted in contrast to the rules of opening fire and without any operational justification” when Mr al-Sharif ”did not present a clear and present threat“.

He was just one of around 190 Palestinians killed since an intensified wave of violence started in October. During the same period, 28 Israelis and two Americans have been killed.

The Hebron incident has reignited the debate about the use of force by the Israeli military, which has been cited as a concern by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.

Israel’s defence minister, its military chief and other top officials said the shooting was against the IDF’s values but their condemnation sparked an outcry by right-wing groups who accuse the army of abandoning its own.

A rally supporting the soldier was planned for Tuesday night in Tel Aviv, with top Israeli musicians due to perform despite at least two pop stars pulling out.

Citing official army figures, the Israeli rights group Yesh Din said that of the more than 2,600 investigations opened by the military into alleged crimes committed by soldiers against Palestinians between 2000 and 2014, only 136 - 5 per cent - resulted in indictments, leading to 193 convictions.

Of about 262 investigations into Palestinian deaths since 2000, only 16 have yielded charges and only one in a manslaughter conviction.

Additional reporting by AP

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