Israeli soldier convicted in 'extra-judicial killing' seeks presidential pardon

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Elor Azaria fatally shot prone Palestinian in 2016 and was convicted of manslaughter

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, with his mother draped in Israeli flag, outside military court in Tel Aviv in July (AFP)
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Friday 20 October 2017 11:17 UTC
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An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a prone Palestinian assailant has asked the country's president to pardon him, the presidency said on Thursday.

"The request will be considered by the relevant authorities and, as is customary in the case of pardon requests by soldiers, will be passed to the ministry of defence and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) for consultation," President Reuven Rivlin’s office said.

A number of Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have called for Azaria to be pardoned.

The March 2016 shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online.

It showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army.

About 11 minutes after the initial shooting, Azaria, a sergeant and military medic at the time of the incident, shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.

He said he had feared Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and could blow himself up - a claim judges rejected.

On 30 July, a military court turned down Azaria's appeal against his conviction for manslaughter and upheld an 18-month prison sentence, which he began serving on 9 August.

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Last month, Israel's military Chief of Staff General Gadi Eisenkot reduced the term by four months.

In a letter to Azaria, Eisenkot wrote that "it must be said from the outset clearly and unequivocally that from the point of view of the chief of staff, your conduct was inappropriate and contrary to army orders and to the army's values".

The army said, however, that Eisenkot had decided to show compassion because of Azaria's prior military service record in a combat zone.

Amnesty International has said Azaria's sentence does "not reflect the gravity of the offence".

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was an "unacceptable" punishment for "an apparent extra-judicial killing".

In sharp contrast, Palestinian security prisoners are not allowed to request pardons.

In 1997, then-president Ezer Weizman pardoned two Israeli assailants who threw a grenade into a shop in East Jerusalem, killing an elderly Palestinian man.

The men, who were members of the now-outlawed extremist group Kahane Chai - designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the US State Department - served only four years of 10-year sentences.