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Defense in Azaria trial says army obstructing justice by meeting family: report

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (C) had been on trial for manslaughter in a military court, with right-wing politicians defending him despite top army brass harshly condemning the killing
Heidi Levine (POOL/AFP)
Family was reportedly told by army that dropping appeal would be looked at favorably when considering a pardon

The attorneys representing Elor Azaria, who last week was convicted of manslaughter after shooting dead a prone Palestinian attacker last year, claimed on Wednesday that the Israeli Defense Forces are obstructing justice after Israeli media reported that the army was urging the family not to appeal the conviction.

In a meeting held between military officials and the father of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Elor Azaria on Monday, the family was urged not to appeal his manslaughter conviction for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in hopes of strengthening his chances for a pardon, Israel's Channel 2 news reported Tuesday evening

The meeting was reportedly intended to ease the tensions between the army and Azaria’s family, as well as to explore ways to contain the public fallout and societal division in wake of the trial.

According to the report, IDF Kfir Brigade Commander ‎Colonel Guy Hazut, Azaria's brigade commander, also suggested that the family replace his defense team. The family was allegedly told by army officials that dropping plans to appeal to the verdict would be looked at favorably when considering a possible pardon for the 20-year-old IDF soldier in the future.

Jack Guez (AFP/File)

Channel 2 reports that after learning of the meeting, Azaria's defense team drafted a strongly worded letter to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in which they said that the meeting constituted obstruction of justice by the army.

In a statement the IDF responded to the allegations, saying that “the IDF Spokesperson would like to clarify that he will not go into detail about the meeting between the family of Sergeant Elor Azaria and his commander but refutes the false report released by Channel 2 regarding an offer promising a reduced punishment, the appeal or any other interference in the legal process. The IDF Spokesperson would like to stress that Sergeant Elor Azaria deserves a clean trial.”

Azaria was tried and found guilty in Israeli military court last week after being caught on video last March shooting an immobilized Palestinian who had just perpetrated a stabbing attack against Israeli soldiers.

The trial’s verdict last Tuesday caused a deep rift in the Israeli public, resulting in demonstrations, protests and even inciting calls for violence against the judges that served in the trial.

Jack Guez (AFP)

Out of those who believed he was wrongly tried were several Right-wing politicians including Culture Minister Miri Regev and Education Minister Naftali Bennett who slammed the trial as "politically contaminated from the get go."

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed Bennett’s lead in calling to pardon Azaria.

Shortly after last Wednesday's court ruling Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's office issued a statement advising that any talk of a pardon was premature.

"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.

Jack Guez (AFP)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote on Facebook Tuesday, to those protesting the conviction and requesting a pardon to refrain from doing so as it was only doing harm.

“We’re doing everything to safeguard both the ethics of the IDF and the soldier Azaria. Anything else only hurts,” he said.

In the event of obtaining a pardon, as an IDF soldier Azaria would have to appeal to either Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin or to the IDF’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who has the legal power to issue pardons for active-duty personnel.

Since the verdict was announced, Liberman has asked Israelis to respect the court's decision and that the soldier’s attorneys agree to a deal in which they forgo filing an appeal in exchange for a lighter sentence.


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