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UN slams 'excessively lenient' sentence for Elor Azaria

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was given an 18-month sentence for killing a wounded assailant, after a trial that rocked the Israeli establishment
A poll this week showed that 56 percent of Israelis feel Azaria sentence was heavy-handed (AFP)

The United Nations human rights office said it is "deeply disturbed" by an 18-month sentence given to an Israeli soldier for killing a wounded and unarmed Palestinian, calling it "excessively lenient" and "unacceptable".

"This case risks undermining confidence in the justice system and reinforcing the culture of impunity," UN human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva on Friday morning. 

The soldier, who killed a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant in March 2016, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Tuesday.

Palestinians expressed outrage following the sentencing, with the Palestinian Authority warning that it gives a "green light" for further abuses by the Israeli army.

The family of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif, the 21-year-old Palestinian who was fatally shot as he lay wounded following an attempted stabbing attack on Israeli soldiers in Hebron last March, called Azaria's trial a "farce".

The case has sent shockwaves through the Israeli establishment - high-ranking members of the military pushed for Azaria to receive a lengthy sentence for his actions, which were caught on camera by an Israeli-Palestinian NGO worker.

Right-wing politicians, however, have backed Azaria, who has widespread support from among the Israeli population.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that he wants to see Azaria pardoned.

"I am still in favour of pardoning Private Azaria," Netanyahu told reporters accompanying him on an official visit to Australia, Israel's Channel 10 said. 

Netanyahu had already spoken out in favour of such a pardon even before the sentence.

A number of other government ministers have also called for him to be pardoned. 

A poll published on Wednesday by the Maariv daily found that 69 percent of Israelis support a pardon, with 56 percent saying the punishment was too severe.

In Australia, Netanyahu expressed concern about the potential impact of the trial on soldiers facing violence who might hesitate to fire for fear of investigation, public radio reported.