Parole board weighs early release for IDF soldier jailed for killing terrorist
JACK GUEZ (AFP)
An Israeli military parole board on Wednesday heard legal arguments for reducing the prison sentence of Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter last year for shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian terrorist in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron in 2016.
During the hearing, Azaria’s legal team requested that his 14-month sentence be cut in half. The prosecution opposed the request, proposing instead that the sentence be cut by a third in acknowledgement of Azaria’s good behavior.
A decision was not immediately expected. If the prosecution’s motion is accepted, Azaria will be released on May 10 -- five months ahead of his present October 2018 release date. If the defense’s request is accepted, Azaria would be released immediately.
The committee, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Maya Goldschmidt and comprised of two other members, convenes to review the conduct of soldiers sentenced to military prisons upon completion of half of their time served.
Azaria was initially sentenced to 18-months in prison after being convicted of manslaughter for 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 Hebron in March 2016.
But following a string of back and forth appeals by Azaria’s lawyers and the High Court, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot reduced the prison sentence from 18 to 14 months.
In their arguments Wednesday, military prosecutors referenced the fact that Azaria's sentenced had already been shortened and argued that a further reduction was not warranted at this time. They said, however, that they would not oppose another parole request in two months time once the soldier had served two-thirds of his sentence.
Azaria's lawyer appealed for his release in time for the Passover holiday at the end of this month.
Azaria, who has not expressed remorse for his actions, maintained at Wednesday's hearing that he shot Sharif because he believed that he was armed with an explosive vest under his jacket.
“I shot the murderous terrorist because at the time in the field, I was certain that he had an explosive and I felt an immediate threat. Had I known otherwise at the time, I would have acted differently,” Azaria said during the proceedings.
This claim, made multiple times by Azaria, was dismissed by judges during his conviction pointing to his calm demeanor in the moments before the shooting and the testimonies of fellow soldiers who said Azaria had told them the terrorist "deserved" to die.
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.
Multiple appeals by Azaria for clemency have been rejected by President Reuven Rivlin.
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