Netanyahu backs pardon for Azaria after court upholds prison sentence
دان باللتي (ا ف ب)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he still backs pardoning IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter earlier this year for the fatal shooting of an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, after a military appellate court rejected appeals made in the case and upheld the soldier's 18-month prison sentence.
Azaria was convicted of manslaughter in February 2017 after he was 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 flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.
Azaria's lawyers appealed the conviction in March but faced backlash from the prosecution, which made a separate appeal asking for a harsher sentence. All appeals were rejected, however, and the soldier's 18-month prison sentence was left intact.
"My opinion has not changed with regards to granting amnesty to Elor Azaria, as I expressed after the verdict," Netanyahu wrote on Twitter following the court's ruling.
"When the subject is brought up for practical discussion, I will forward my recommendation for amnesty to the relevant parties," he added.
Azaria's case has deeply divided Israeli public opinion between those who believe he was wrongly tried and those who say the conviction was the right and proper consequence of his actions.
The rejection of Azaria's appeal on Sunday sparked new demonstrations in front of the IDF's headquarters in Tel Aviv, as calls for pardoning the soldier poured in from right-wing lawmakers.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman urged the Azaria family not to continue the appeals process and instead to submit a request for pardon to the IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott.
"I ask the Azaria family not to file another appeal and to turn to the [IDF] chief of staff with a request for a pardon...I have no doubt the chief of staff will take into consideration all the difficult circumstances and his being an outstanding soldier," Lieberman said.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has previously slammed the trial as "politically contaminated," also called for pardoning Azaria while urging citizens to refrain from directing backlash towards the IDF.
"Now, after a year and a half of suffering, the time has come pardon Elor Azaria. On behalf of our soldiers who are on the front line, and in order to prevent the loss of our power of deterrence, Elor Azaria must return home," Bennett said.
"I have full faith in Chief of Staff Eisenkott and IDF commanders. In no scenario is there a place for calls as there were in the past," he added.
Eisenkott responded in a statement that he would "consider seriously" a lesser sentence for Azaria if such a request was submitted to him
But the ex-soldier's lawyers indicated that they will seek an appeal of the conviction at the High Court of Justice.
The military appeals court ruled that Azaria will begin serving his prison sentence on August 9, unless the High Court accepts his appeal by then.
Azaria was released from military prison to house arrest as his period of mandatory army service came to an end and he awaited a decision from the appelate court.
Until his release to house arrest, Azaria served his time in open detention on a military base in central Israel with periodic furloughs home and frequent visits from family members.
The family of the deceased Palestinian responded to the decision to uphold Azaria's conviction with surprise, saying in a statement: "We were certain Elor Azaria would be exonerated."
The family, which previously indicated that it plans to seek murder charges at the International Criminal Court, said it "opposes all forms of violence, by Palestinians and Israelis alike."
The last manslaughter conviction against an Israeli soldier came 12 years ago. Many Palestinians often complain that Israel doesn’t prosecute crimes committed by its own soldiers readily enough.
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