Wed, May 09, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Israeli soldier freed after serving half of manslaughter term

AFP, RAMLA, Israel

Raja, the mother of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif (portrait), who was shot dead by Israeli soldier Elor Azaria while lying wounded on the ground in 2016, sits at their home in the West Bank town of Hebron, as Azaria was freed from prison yesterday.

Photo: AFP

An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant was yesterday freed from prison and greeted by supporters as a hero after serving nine months behind bars, half his original sentence.

Elor Azaria was initially condemned to 18 months in prison for the 2016 killing of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Gadi Eisenkot later reduced the term by four months and in March a parole board ordered a further cut to nine months.

Azaria was released two days ahead of schedule, and as word of it spread a small group of supporters began to visit his home in Ramla near Tel Aviv, including the city’s mayor.

Israeli media said he was freed early from Tzrifim military prison, near Tel Aviv, to allow him to attend his brother’s wedding.

The military confirmed his release, but provided no further details.

A sign outside Azaria’s home said: “Welcome back Elor the hero.”

“I’m here to thank all the people of Israel for their support, for their embrace,” his sister Etti Azaria said outside the home, an Israeli flag held up behind her. “They were with us all the way.”

Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennet, head of the Jewish Home party, tweeted his congratulations to Azaria along with a picture of the family, saying: “It’s good to have you home.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had called for the former soldier to receive a presidential pardon, told reporters he was “happy that the affair is over.”

However, the release drew further anger from Palestinians, who have called his sentence outrageously short.

The mother of the Palestinian killed by Azaria spoke of her resignation.

“There is nothing we can do,” Rajaa al-Sharif said at her home in Hebron. “This is something natural for them.”

Azaria, who was 19 at the time of the 2016 shooting, began serving his sentence on Aug. 9. Prisoners in Israel often have their sentences cut by a third for good behavior. The shooting incident was caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online.

It showed 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.

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