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Israeli court denies Hebron shooter's request to delay jail term

Le soldat israélien Elor Azaria (c), entre ses parents Oshra (g) et Charlie (d), devant des juges, le 30 juillet 2017 à Tel Aviv
Dan Balilty (POOL/AFP/Archives)
Lawyer for Azaria says the former soldier should not go to jail until decision made on possible pardon

An Israeli military court denied on Tuesday the appeal of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier convicted of killing an immobile Palestinian attacker, to postpone the start of his prison sentence just 24 hours before it is due to begin.

Azaria will enter prison Wednesday as previously planned. 

Speaking at the hearing, lawyer for Azaria earlier Tuesday, Yoram Sheftel said that circumstances and a statement from the chief-of-staff meant that there was validity in the request to delay the jail term until after a decision was made on a possible pardon.

"This is an extreme case, and therefore exceptional decisions must be made on the matter. It was not by chance that the chief-of-staff issued a public announcement that if Elor [Azaria] turned to him, he would seriously consider making it easier for him to ask him to ease his sentence," he said.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prosecution formally opposed the request by Azaria, whose case has captivated and divided public attention, to delay his sentencing until the IDF Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot, makes a separate decision on whether to commute his sentence.


Prosecutor Lt. Col. (Res.) Nadav Weissman rejected the argument. "A convicted person cannot dictate the verdict with his own hands when he announces that he will not appeal. A judgment becomes void only at the end of a period prescribed by law. Contrary to Sheftel's argument, the chief-of-staff's statement was published only after the court rose, and not in the course of the court's decision. There is no promise in the chief-of-staff's announcement immediately after the verdict, nor an invitation."

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. The incident was captured on film and the images beamed around the world, sparking public debate in Israel about the morality of the shooting.

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.

Various Israeli politicians have publicly stated that they believe Azaria should be pardoned, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"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.


Last Wednesday, Azaria's attorneys opposed an appeal to the Supreme Court in order to request a commutation from the chief of staff, Israeli daily Haaretz reported. In the letter, Azaria apparently expressed remorse for shooting dead the wounded Palestinian assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif.

Yet on Thursday, Azaria made a 360-degree turn and published a video saying he would enter prison with his head held high. And on Friday, Azaria's main attorney, Yoram Sheftel, told Channel 10 that the chief of staff was considering the initial request.

Over the past few days, Azaria and his defense attorneys have changed their course of action several times as they consider the odds of the chief of staff commuting the sentence.

Responding Azaria's request, the military prosecution wrote that the defense position lacked precedent. The prosecutors added that postponing a sentence would be an exceptional move.


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