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Netanyahu urges Israeli president to reconsider Azaria pardon rebuff

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant, arrives at the Tserifin military base to begin his 18-month prison sentence on August 9, 2017
JACK GUEZ (AFP)
Elor Azaria was convicted of shooting Palestinian terrorist as he lay prone on the ground

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday joined several of his senior cabinet colleagues in signing a letter to Israel’s president, urging the reconsideration of an earlier refusal to grant a pardon to Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, convicted of shooting an immobile Palestinian assailant.

On November 19 President Reuven Rivlin rebuffed a pardon request from Azaria, who copped an 18 month prison sentence, later shortened to 14 months by Israel’s military chief.

The then-21-year old was convicted after being caught on film in March 2016 shooting Palestinian terrorist Abdel Fattah al-Sharif as he lay prone and immobilized on the ground after carrying out a stabbing attack against Israeli soldiers in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron.

As of Monday, 54 Knesset members have signed the letter to Rivlin, Ynet reported, including the defense, interior, finance, justice and education ministers.

However the news outlet noted that a renewed amnesty request can only be submitted six months after the first is rejected, meaning almost half of Azaria’s sentence would have been served by the time the president can legally reassess the case.

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Rivlin’s legal adviser explained earlier this month that the president rebuffed decision the soldier’s clemency application after giving “his opinion regarding the offenses committed by you and their circumstances, the content of your written application, and all the material and opinions brought before him, and has decided to reject the application.”

Netanyahu has previously called for the soldier to be pardoned.

The Azaria case sparked a furious debate about the standards of the Israel Defense Forces and the punishments meted out to those who break the rules in tense combat situations.

In their February ruling against Azaria the court rejected key defense claims, including that the Palestinian was already dead when he was shot, and Azaria's own testimony that he had feared the terrorist could still attack with a knife or a hidden explosive.

Delivering the court's verdict, the case's lead judge Col. Maya Heller called Azaria’s testimony "evolving and evasive," and determined that his motives were more sinister, noting witness testimony that Azaria told his fellow soldiers that "the terrorist deserved to die" immediately following the shooting.

According to a survey conducted by Israel's Channel Two in January, some 67 per cent of Israelis said they supported clemency for Azaria, while 19 per cent did not.

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