Israeli soldier who shot dead wounded Palestinian has prison sentence cut by a third

Elor Azaria will walk free after serving nine months for killing Abdul Fatah al-Sharif as he lay motionless on ground

Chris Baynes
Monday 19 March 2018 13:44 GMT
Attack was caught on film in January 2016
Attack was caught on film in January 2016

An Israeli military court has agreed to the early release of a soldier imprisoned for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian, according to reports.

Elor Azaria will walk free in May after serving nine months of a 14-month jail term for the manslaughter of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said.

Sharif, 21, was lying injured and motionless on the ground after stabbing an Israeli solder when Azaria shot him in the head.

His death in March 2016 was caught on camera and sparked outrage when the footage was released by a human rights group.

Azaria was initially given 18 months in jail, a sentence which was reduced to 14 months following an intervention in September by IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.

His term was cut further on Monday by the army's prison parole board after military prosecutors agreed to Azaria's request for early release. He will be freed on 10 May after serving less than two thirds of his sentence.

The sergeant's imprisonment – which followed the first manslaughter prosecution for a serving member of the IDF in more than a decade – split public opinion in Israel. There is widespread support for the IDF in Israel, where at least two years of military service is compulsory.

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria is embraced by his mother at the start of is sentencing hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv, Israel on February 21, 2017
Israeli soldier Elor Azaria is embraced by his mother at the start of is sentencing hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv, Israel on February 21, 2017 (REUTERS)

There have been several fundraisers and protests in support of the soldier, as well as high-profile calls for the young recruit to be given a government pardon.

Palestinians and human rights activists, however, have widely criticised Azaria’s punishment as too lenient.

While manslaughter is punishable under Israeli law by up to 20 years in prison, Azaria’s sentence was less harsh than the mandatory minimum penalty of four years in prison that some Palestinian children have faced for throwing stones.

Azaria’s attorney Yoram Sheftel reportedly told a parole hearing at the army's Tel Aviv headquarters last week that the soldier's good behaviour in prison warranted his early release.

According to the Times of Israel, military prosecutors said Azaria should not yet be freed but signalled they would not contest his release in two months.

Azaria has never expressed remorse for the killing, which came after Sharif attacked two IDF soldiers with a knife. He maintains he opened fire on the Palestinian because he believed he was carrying a concealed bomb, a claim rejected by a military court.

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