January 5, 2017 / 9:55 AM / 2 years ago

Two arrested in Israel for threatening judges in soldier trial: police

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police said on Thursday they arrested two people for inciting violence on social media against three military judges who convicted a soldier of manslaughter for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian attacker.

A Palestinian holds a poster of Israeli Sergeant Elor Azaria that reads "wanted" during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

The judges found Sergeant Elor Azaria, 20, guilty of the charge on Wednesday, and supporters have set up several Facebook pages urging Israel’s president to pardon him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also called for a pardon on his own Facebook page.

The case has polarized Israel. A military security detail was assigned to the judges on Wednesday, when several hundred far-right supporters of Azaria clashed with police outside the Tel Aviv military base as the verdict was being read out.

Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit later ordered an investigation into incitement to violence by demonstrators who warned they would take retribution against military chief Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkott, who has spoken strongly against Azaria’s actions.

“Inciting language against judges, military officers, law enforcement officials, or any person is unacceptable,” Mandelblit said in a statement.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said officers had arrested a man in Jerusalem and a woman in the southern town of Kiryat Gat whose social media comments constituted “incitement to violence” against the judges.

Ten months ago, Azaria was an army medic serving in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank when two Palestinians stabbed a fellow soldier.

One of the assailants was shot dead by troops. The other, Abd Elfatah Ashareef, 21, was wounded and lay on the ground incapacitated when Azaria shot him in the head with an assault rifle more than 10 minutes after the attack.

Ruling in one of the most polarising cases in Israel’s history, the judges convicted Azaria of manslaughter, saying he acted out of a sense of vengeance and had said after pulling the trigger, “He deserved to die.”

He faces up to 20 years in prison, although legal experts expect a much lighter term. Sentencing is expected in the coming weeks.

The trial has generated debate about whether the military is out of touch with a public that has shifted to the right in its attitudes toward the Palestinians.

A poll published on Wednesday by Israel’s Channel 2 television showed that 67 percent of respondents favor a pardon for Azaria. Many right-leaning politicians advocate the same.

Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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