Israeli soldier gets 18 months for killing wounded Palestinian attacker

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Azaria and his mother in court (21/02/17)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The court dismissed Azaria's claim that he thought the wounded victim presented a threat

An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker in a high-profile case that split opinion across the country has been jailed for 18 months.

Elor Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter for shooting dead 21-year-old Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, last March.

Azaria had told a colleague that Sharif, who had stabbed another soldier, "deserved to die".

Military chiefs condemned his actions, but others praised them.

The case fuelled debate in Israel over when and how soldiers are entitled to use lethal force against attackers.

The shooting occurred amid a wave of attacks by Palestinians that had killed 29 Israelis over the preceding five months.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Dozens of supporters of Azaria gathered outside the court

The offence carries a sentence of up to 20 years, though prosecutors had called for Azaria to be jailed for between three and five years.

Jail term anger - by the BBC's Jonny Dymond at the court

Outside the court, chanting and singing from protesters didn't falter as the verdict was read out. The small but noisy crowd had come to demand Elor Azaria's immediate release and condemn his trial, not to argue over the length of his sentence.

Nationalist politicians criticised the sentence. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party in the governing coalition, called for an immediate pardon. "Elor must not go to jail," he said, "or we will all pay the price."

Yusri al-Sharif, the father of the attacker killed by Azaria, said the sentence was a "joke" and the Israeli authorities were "laughing in our face". He had called for a life sentence.

This is not the end of the case. Azaria's defence team have said they will appeal against the verdict of manslaughter and there is the possibility of getting the sentence reduced.

Azaria, who was also ordered demoted from his rank of sergeant, sat smiling broadly, embraced by his mother, as the judgment was read out, says our correspondent.

The judge, Maya Heller, said his crime was mitigated by the fact that it was his first conviction, that it had occurred in an active military scene and that there had been no clear orders as to how he was supposed to act.

Judge Heller noted that Azaria had not displayed any remorse for what he had done.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority criticised the sentence as lenient, calling it a "green light to the occupation army to continue its crimes", AFP news agency reported.

Media caption,

Israeli soldier who shot wounded Palestinian jailed

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously said he would support any decision to pardon the soldier.

The killing received widespread coverage after footage of the incident, filmed on a mobile phone, was shown on Israeli news programmes.

It showed Azaria cocking his gun and firing at the head of Sharif, who was lying apparently incapacitated on the ground after being shot and wounded following the stabbing attack.

The court which convicted Azaria dismissed his claim that he had acted out of fear that Sharif might have been wearing an explosive vest.

Following the incident military chiefs and the prime minister came under fire from right-wing sections of society - including members of Mr Netanyahu's cabinet - for criticising Azaria's actions.

Mr Netanyahu later telephoned Azaria's father to offer reassurance.