Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called for the pardon of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier who had just been convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian man previous year in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
Israeli police say they have arrested two people for inciting violence on social media against three military judges who convicted a soldier of manslaughter over his fatal shooting of an injured Palestinian attacker.
According to the Associated Press (AP), when delivering the verdict in the court in Tel Aviv Col. Maya Heller, head of a three-judge panel, said there was no evidence to support Azaria’s claims and called his testimony “unreliable” and said he “needlessly” shot the assailant.
Azaria’s conviction pitched Israel’s dueling factions against each other once again, just weeks after President Obama’s sharply divisive decision not to veto a UN Security Council resolution branding Israel’s West Bank settlements as “illegal”.
“This is a hard and painful day for us all – first and foremost for Elor and his family, for IDF soldiers, for many citizens, and for the parents of our soldiers, myself included”, Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday.
“He should be sentenced in this court like they do with Palestinians… life sentences, torture and then ending up dead lying in a refrigerator”, Yusri al-Sharif, the victim’s father, told Al-Jazeera.
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However, Azaria denied the allegations and said he didn’t recall making any such statement.
The judges, who excoriated the defence’s arguments for more than two hours, said there was no dispute that the soldier’s bullet had killed the 21-year old Palestinian man and that he had died “needlessly”.
Whereas Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has previously supported Azaria, said “It is a harsh verdict. but whether you approve or disapprove, like myself, you should respect the verdict”.
With his comment, Benjamin Netanyahu has plunged into a raging political debate that has divided the country, putting himself at odds with the military.
The office of president Rivlin has already issued a statement saying that any amnesty plea on behalf of Sgt. Azaria would be considered in accordance with standard practices. Azaria will be sentenced at a future hearing in several weeks. The lead judge, IDF Col. Maya Heller, spent nearly three hours reading the decision that concluded with a conviction on a charge of manslaughter. In one survey, almost half of Israeli Jews agreed that any Palestinian who carries out an attack should be killed on the spot.
“I’m not authorised to pardon anyone, that’s up to the chief of staff. Calls for a pardon are propaganda and indicate ignorance” of the law, he said. A female terrorist tried to attack soldiers at the checkpoint with a knife.