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Israeli soldier verdict: Army protects Elor Azaria judges as conviction protests grow

Security guards to shadow three judges and prosecutor, as threats continue against conviction for killing injured Palestinian
Protesters clash with police after the conviction of Elor Azaria on 4 January (Reuters)

The Israeli army has assigned a security detail to protect the three judges involved in the trial of Elor Azaria, who was found guilty of manslaughter for shooting a wounded Palestinian man.

Security guards have also been assigned to the chief military prosecutor in the case, Nadav Weissman, amid fear of violent reprisals by supporters of the soldier, Ynetnews reported.

The website reported that the judges - Maya Heller, Carmel Wahabi and Yaron Sitbon - would be escorted by security guards as protests mounted.

READ: The Israeli army tried to redeem itself with Elor Azaria's trial. It failed.

Azaria was filmed shooting an already seriously wounded Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head after he and another Palestinian tried to stab soldiers in Hebron in March.

Hundreds of protesters gather in solidarity with Azaria after his conviction on Wednesday in Tel Aviv. One chant warned the family of Sharif that they had not "heard the last word. We will shake up the country”.

Israeli police said on Thursday they had arrested two people for "inciting violence" on social media against the judges. They were a man in Jerusalem and a woman in the southern town of Kiryat Gat.

State Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, meanwhile, issued a special statement defending the rule of law in the case, amid claims that the judges' decision was "influenced". The verdict was greeted by protests from senior politicians, including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

'Respect for the state legal system and judicial decisions is a fundamental rock of Israeli democracy'

- Avichai Mandelblit, State Attorney General Avichai

“Israeli law enforcement system, including the military justice system, fulfilling its role independently, impartially and devoid of bias, and according to legal and professional considerations only," said Mandelblit.

"Respect for the state legal system and judicial decisions is a fundamental rock of Israeli democracy. Claims that law enforcement officials supposedly act according to external reasons are unfounded, irresponsible and must be fully condemned."

Netanyahu on Wednesday said he supported a pardon for Azaria. Only the country's president, Reuven Rivlin, has the authority to issue pardons.

Palestinians protest in West Bank during trial of Elor Azaria on 4 January (Reuters)

“This is a difficult and painful day for all of us, and first and foremost for Elor and his family, for IDF soldiers, for many soldiers and for the parents of our soldiers, and me among them.

"We have one army, which is the basis of our existence. The soldiers of the IDF are our sons and daughters, and they need to remain above dispute.”

Protests threaten army chief of staff

Azaria faces up to 20 years in prison, and will be sentenced at a later date.

His defence team reportedly plans to appeal against the verdict, which is the first time in 12 years that an Israeli soldier has been convicted for his actions while in uniform.

Several protesters were reported to have threatened the Israeli army's chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, shouting: "Rabin is looking for a friend" - a reference to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist in 1995 after seeking peace deals with the Palestinians.

Eisenkot has been vocally opposed to Azaria's actions, saying he had "betrayed" other soldiers who are tasked with "defending Israel".

READ: Thousands rally in support of soldier who 'executed' Palestinian

Before handing down their verdict, judges told Azaria that they believed he had shot Sharif "without reason".

They also appeared to dismiss the defence's two main arguments, that Sharif was dead at the time of the shooting and that Azaria felt threatened by the prone Palestinian, saying: "You can't have it both ways."

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