JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s military on Wednesday reduced by four months the 18-month jail term of an ex-soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, saying his service record warranted clemency though he showed no remorse in the case.
In March 2015, infantry conscript Elor Azaria was caught on videotape shooting dead a Palestinian who was lying wounded after taking part in a stabbing attack on other Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
Azaria said he shot Abd Elfatah Ashareef because he feared the Palestinian could carry out another attack, but a court-martial found contradictions in the testimony and convicted him of manslaughter. The verdict was upheld on appeal.
After being discharged from the military, Azaria went to prison last month and appealed to the armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot, to reconsider his sentence, citing the cost to his family of the acrimonious trial.
In a response letter made public on Wednesday, the military informed Azaria that Eizenkot had decided to cut the jail term “on grounds of compassion and mercy ... taking into account your past as a combat soldier in an operational theater”.
But the letter also faulted the former soldier over “grave actions for which you did not take responsibility and for which you did not express regret,” adding that “the important messages in the court rulings should be heeded”.
Azaria became a right-wing cause celebre in Israel, where most Jewish men and women are drafted at 18 for military service. One poll found that nearly half of Israeli Jews believe any Palestinian attacker should be killed on the spot.
The Palestinian government said Azaria’s jail term had given Israeli soldiers a “green light” to kill with impunity. Under Israeli law, manslaughter can carry a maximum 20 years behind bars. Military prosecutors had asked the appeals court to impose a three- to five-year sentence on Azaria, but were turned down.
Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Dan Williams/Mark Heinrich