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Netanyahu joins calls to pardon Azaria after manslaughter verdict

Israeli women protest outside the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on January 4, 2017, in support of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant
Jack Guez (AFP)
Former Labor leader Yachimovitch among those calling to pardon soldier

After a military tribunal on Wednesday found Sgt. Elor Azaria, 20, guilty of manslaughter over the shooting death of a Palestinian militant, politicians on both sides of the political divide, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urged the authorities to pardon the Israel Defense Forces soldier.

The leader took to Facebook to say this was "a painful day for us all," and called to respect the military; he signed off saying he supports pardoning the soldier.

Leading the calls was Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who slammed the trial as "politically contaminated from the get go."

"Today a soldier who killed a terrorist who deserved to die, who tried to slaughter another soldier, was placed in shackles and convicted like a criminal," the hardliner charged.

Culture Minister Miri Regev said too that she would also work to secure a pardon as "this is not how you act toward a soldier who belongs to all of us."

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, took to Twitter to state that while he respects the court's decidion, "now the right thing to do is pardon him. The lengthy trial and the suffering endured by the soldier and his family justify a pardon."

"This is the time to support the Azaria family," said MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who was the only politician to show up in court. "The trial was a big show.. We will find a way to free him."

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said that "the government and military should now take responsibility and pardon the soldier, sent to the front line to protect us from Palestinian terrorism."

Whereas Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has previously supported Azaria, said "It is a harsh verdict.. but whether you approve or disapprove, like myself, you should respect the verdict."

Former Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich said that while "the conviction of Elor Azaria is justified," "however, at the end of the legal process it will be right to weigh pardoning Azaria.”

Yachimovich's political rival and incumbent opposition leader Isaad Herzog said that "you can't ignore that Azaria was, to a degree, a victim of the situation."

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's office issued a statement shortly after Wednesday'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.

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