The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
Military appeals court reading its ruling in Azaria case
The judges of the military appeals court hearing the two appeals in the Elor Azaria manslaughter case are delivering their verdict in the appeals of both the defendant, Sgt. Azaria, and the military prosecution.
Azaria was convicted on January 4 of manslaughter in the shooting death of a wounded Palestinian stabber, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in March 2016 after the latter had stabbed and lightly wounded an IDF soldier. His attorneys are appealing the conviction.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The military prosecution is appealing what they call the relatively light sentence.
No ‘outside motive’ for witnesses to falsely accuse Azaria
The judges in the Elor Azaria case, who are now reading their rulings in two appeals over Azaria’s manslaughter conviction and 18-month prison sentence, reject the defense’s attempts to question the reliability of witnesses who served with Azaria in Hebron in March 2016.
While accepting the “problematic” aspects of parts of some witness testimony, especially aspects of the company commander’s testimony, the judges rule that “we have not found among any of the witnesses any outside motive to falsely accuse Azaria.”
Azaria ruling: No proof chief of staff’s comments affected the trial
Appeals judges reject the defense’s claims that the comments in March 2016 by IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who spoke out against the shooting of the incapacitated Palestinian assailant, affected the trial.
“The defense was unable to prove that the comments by the chief of staff after the incident had any influence over the [judicial] process,” the judges say in their ruling on the appeals by both the defense and prosecution.
Appeals court: Azaria did not shoot because he feared attack
The military appeals court in the Azaria trial appears to be siding with the Jaffa Military Court in the case, saying explicitly in its ruling, which is being read at this moment in the courtroom at IDF Military Headquarters in the Kirya complex in Tel Aviv, that “Azaria’s shooting [of the Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif] was not motivated by fear of the terrorist’s future action.”
The statement appears to reject the fundamental argument of Azaria’s defense throughout the judicial process since the March 2016 shooting: that he feared the incapacitated assailant could still have caused harm and may have been wearing a bomb.
Judges affirm Azaria’s ‘original reason’ for killing Palestinian assailant was revenge
The appeals court in the Azaria case appears to dismiss the IDF sergeant’s claims that he feared the incapacitated Palestinian assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was still a danger to fellow soldiers when he shot him.
Azaria first told his commanders that Sharif “deserved to die” because he had stabbed a friend and fellow soldier a few minutes before the shooting in March 2016.
Judges say “the original reason” given by Azaria for killing Sharif “in real time was the true reason for the act.” They call his admission that it was an act of revenge “his original and spontaneous response to the event,” when Azaria had still not had “a chance to consider a new version or take advice from attorneys.”
Azaria knowingly violated IDF rules of engagement, court says
The appeals court says St. Sgt. Elor Azaria “did not act according to the rules of engagement, which he knew well” when he shot Palestinian stabber Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in March 2016.
The statement strengthens the impression from the court’s ruling — which is being read at this moment in the military appeals court in IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv — that it will back the Jaffa Military Court’s manslaughter conviction of Azaria in January.
Appeals court confirms Azaria’s vengeance motive, may be leaning toward stiffer sentence
The judges say explicitly “there is no reason to overturn the [lower] court’s finding that the appellant [Azaria] acted not out of fear of danger, but rather was motivated by vengeance.”
With that, Azaria’s request to overturn his manslaughter conviction is almost certainly rejected — though the reading of the ruling is still underway.
It is hard to see how the military appeals court’s repeated confirmation of the lower court’s findings about Azaria’s culpability and motive could lead to a reduction of his 18-month sentence.
Could the judges be leaning toward accepting the prosecution’s appeal to stiffen his 18-month prison sentence, which prosecutors have said was overly lenient given the circumstances of his manslaughter conviction?
Azaria’s account of shooting untrustworthy, judges find
As the ruling is read in the Azaria appeal, it is becoming clear the judges do not believe Elor Azaria’s version of the events surrounding his killing of Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in March 2016.
“The appellant offered different versions that changed and developed throughout the trial,” the judges note. Earlier in the ruling, they explicitly find that he lied about some aspects of his account.
Judges insist ethics are vital for an army’s resilience
Judges make a case for the army maintaining a high moral standard. They cite David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who said that a victorious army requires not just officers and weapons systems and logistical support — but that its most important weapon is its morality.
“Ethics are fundamental for an army’s resilience both externally and internally,” the judges insist.
Judges appear prepared to uphold 18-month sentence
The court appears to be preparing to approve the 18-month prison sentence, noting: “The punishment is on the lower edge of appropriate sentencing. But the [lower] court considered the circumstances of the crime.”
The act, the appeals judges say, is “forbidden, severe, immoral. The appellant had an intent to kill the assailant.”
Even so, judges note, the circumstances of the Palestinian victim’s crime minutes earlier — the stabbing of a fellow soldier in Azaria’s unit — as well as their finding that Azaria did not plan the killing, are mitigating circumstances.
Family and friends protest Azaria ruling by putting on black shirts
There is a protest by family and friends of Elor Azaria in the courtroom in IDF Headquarters in the Kirya.
Several people put on black t-shirts as judges uphold Azaria’s manslaughter conviction and uphold the 18-month.
Azaria’s mother weeps and cries out that the court isn’t considering the fact that the victim was himself a terrorist.
The judge stops reading the ruling, tells the mother to stay quiet or be forced to leave.
— Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff
Appeals court upholds 18-month sentence for Elor Azaria
Shortly after upholding Elor Azaria’s manslaughter conviction, the military appeals court upholds the 18-month sentence, rejecting the appeal of the prosecution.
“It is unfortunate that such an excelling soldier committed such a terrible error,” the court says as it explains its thinking on the sentence.
“This is a normative family. The appellant has suffered emotional distress since the incident. But these facts can’t have a significant influence on the sentence,” the court says, rejecting arguments by the defense for lowering the sentence.
“The punishment is modest,” the court says, even noting it is “on the lower edge of available sentences.”
The court lays out some “circumstances” of the case. To Azaria’s detriment: the fact that he “decided to question the character of nearly everyone who questioned his character, and never expressed remorse or questioned his actions.” To his benefit: “He was under arrest a long time, and under house arrest. His behavior was good throughout. He was a devoted and excelling warrior until the incident.”
In the end, in a three-to-two decision, the court upholds the 18-month sentence, to begin when Azaria enters prison.
Defense minister urges IDF pardon for Azaria after appeal rejected
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman weighs in after Elor Azaria’s appeal is rejected by the military appeals court.
“I’m asking the Azaria family not to appeal again, but to turn to the chief of staff to ask for a pardon. I have no doubt that the chief of staff will take all the difficult circumstances into account, including that [Azaria] was an excelling soldier,” Liberman tweets.
The chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, has the power to grant pardons within the army. The defense minister appears to be indirectly urging the head of the IDF to employ that power in Azaria’s case, despite two courts’ findings that he willfully killed an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in an act of vengeance.
Former IDF manpower chief: Politicians should leave Azaria case alone
MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), a former chief of the IDF Manpower Directorate, urges his fellow politicians to cease commenting on the Azaria trial.
“The military court gave its backing for the IDF’s code of ethics and for the chief of staff’s own support for the IDF’s ethics,” Stern says, referring to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s criticism of Azaria’s March 2016 killing of an incapacitated Palestinian assailant.
“The political interventions in this case have caused very great harm to the IDF, and also to Elor Azaria. I call on the prime minister, ministers and members of Knesset to stop dealing with this case and to leave the commanders to deal with the [question of] pardons.”
Culture minister Regev urges IDF pardon for Azaria
Culture Minister Miri Regev, a former IDF spokesperson, issues a statement backing Elor Azaria after a military appeals court upholds his manslaughter conviction and 18-month prison sentence.
“This outstanding soldier, Elor Azaria, should have been safe in his home long ago. It is now in the IDF’s power [to release him], and this is the most basic act of support that Elor deserves. A pardon, and sooner rather than later.”
Bennett calls to respect court, joins chorus calling for pardon
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a former IDF commando and head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, says the appeals court’s ruling upholding Elor Azaria’s conviction must be respected, but urges a pardon for the soldier.
“The ruling is difficult, but we must respect the court,” he says in a statement. “Now, after a year and a half of suffering, it’s time to pardon Elor Azaria. For our warriors who find themselves on the front line, and to ensure we don’t lose our deterrent power, Elor Azaria must return home.”
He warns against verbal attacks against IDF officers, such as those heard in protests over the Azaria trial over the past year.
“I have full faith in the chief of staff, [Lt. Gen.] Gadi Eisenkot, and in the IDF’s commanders. There are no circumstances that justify outbursts like those heard in the past,” he says.
Azaria’s sister says her brother received ‘the law,’ but not justice
Against a black background on her Facebook page, Elor Azaria’s sister Etti slams the decision of the appeals court in her brother’s case.
Addressing the judges who upheld the manslaughter conviction and his 18-month prison sentence, she writes: “You undoubtedly delivered the law, but where is the justice?? A black day for Israel.”
Father and son believed trapped in Tel Aviv apartment fire
Hebrew media reports says two people are believed to be trapped in a building fire in Tel Aviv, in the Kikar Hamedina area.
The two are described as a father and son, though their ages are not given.
The blaze started on the third floor of the six-story building.
Firefighters are on the scene.
Netanyahu joins calls to pardon Elor Azaria
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joins the chorus of right-wing lawmakers calling for a pardon for Elor Azaria.
“My opinion has not changed on the question of granting a pardon to Elor Azaria, as I expressed it after the [January] conviction. When the subject comes up [in the context of pardon deliberations], I will offer my recommendation for a pardon to the relevant authorities,” Netanyahu tweets.
Jordanian king call to check on Abbas’s health
Jordan’s King Abdullah II calls Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to check on his health, the Jordanian monarchy says.
Abbas, 82, was hospitalized for exhaustion over the weekend. Hospital officials initially only said that Abbas underwent routine exams and that the results were good.
However, doctors and Palestinian officials said Sunday that Abbas was exhausted. One physician said that Abbas suffered from an inflammation of the stomach, aggravated by stress.
— AP contributed to this report
Meretz leader Galon praises Azaria ruling, slams ‘pandering’ politicians
Meretz leader MK Zehava Galon is one of the lone voices in the political system to celebrate the military appeals court’s upholding of Elor Azaria’s conviction and sentence.
“The judges of the court…dismantled every claim of the defense: there was no self defense here, and Azaria didn’t act out of any fear for his life, but was motivated by vengeance. The decision upholds the ethical boundaries that politicians have intentionally sought to obfuscate,” she says.
“But this case isn’t over today. The damage it has done will be with us for a long time yet. St. Sgt. A., the soldier who neutralized the terrorist in Neve Tsuf, has received death threats for not assassinating [the terrorists], but for merely rescuing a family from certain death,” Galon says.
“That wouldn’t have happened if not for [the] Azaria [case],” she adds. “It wouldn’t have happened without politicians riding on the wave of a public atmosphere that describes murder as heroism and views professionalism as something despicable.”
Politicians, she says, “understood all that, but preferred getting ‘likes.’ The Azaria case revealed the sort of politics that Bennett, Liberman and Netanyahu are engaged in: pandering, constantly in campaign mode, which views polls as more important than the good of the country.”
The result is the “legitimization of gangster ethics,” she charges, that threatens to turn the IDF in a “militia.”
She says she is sure President Reuven Rivlin will not agree to pardon Azaria, but will prefer to uphold the rule of law.
Sharif family says it was ‘certain Azaria would be exonerated’
The family of Azaria’s victim, Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, says in a statement after Azaria’s conviction is upheld today that “we were certain Elor Azaria would be exonerated” by the appeals court.
The family says it “opposes all forms of violence, by Palestinians and Israelis alike,” Channel 2 reports.
Police stop car, find two 17-year-old girls packed into trunk
Police who stop a vehicle on Route 40 for a spot check discover a surprise: two 17-year-old girls packed into the car’s trunk.
The driver, a 19-year-old male, is taken for questioning and has his driver’s license canceled on the spot.
Officers say he explained that the girls are friends of his, and he was giving them a rid, but had no room for them in the front.
When the officers first stopped the car, police say, they decided to check the trunk after hearing strange sounds coming from it. One of the girls yelled, “I’m choking,” police say.
Tel Aviv apartment fire put out, one man lightly hurt
The apartment fire at Tel Aviv’s Kikar Hamedina is put out, firefighters say.
One man is rescued from the building and is only lightly hurt. There are no other injuries in the fire.
Earlier reports said firefighters feared a father and son who were missing in the building might be trapped in the third-story blaze.
Minority opinion in Azaria appeal sought stiffer sentence of 30 months
The military appeals court ruled 3-2 to keep Elor Azaria’s sentence at 18 months.
Maj. Gen. Doron Feiles, chief judge of the military appeals court, says in reading the court’s decision that the minority opinion wanted to increase Azaria’s sentence, given by the Jaffa Military Court earlier this year, to nearly twice that, or 30 months.
Labor leader Gabbay calls to leave ‘petty politics’ out of army
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay calls for politicians to stop trying to interfere in the Azaria case.
“In the [appeals court’s] rejection of [Azaria’s] appeal…there are many arguments, but one clear and especially relevant conclusion that we can all agree on today: let’s keep petty politics out of the army and its judicial process.”
Livni also calls for politicians to stop interfering in Azaria case
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnua Party, joins the chorus of those urging that politicians stay out of the Azaria case.
“The court had its say, again. We have to respect the court’s decision, the IDF and its ethics — without politicians advising the family or the chief of staff. Let the IDF decide — and win.”
Rivlin will wait for IDF pardon process before considering appeal from Azaria
Sources in the President’s Residence tell Channel 2 that the president will not consider pardoning Elor Azaria while IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is considering a pardon. President Reuven Rivlin and Eisenkot are the two officials empowered under law to pardon a convicted soldier.
The sources say the presidential pardons process is an arduous one compared to that of the chief of staff, and will require recommendations from the IDF’s chief prosecutor, the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, the chief of staff and the defense minister.
Azaria’s attorneys seek delay of sentence to turn to Supreme Court
Elor Azaria’s attorneys are asking the military appeals court for a 30-day stay of his sentence to give them a chance to appeal his manslaughter conviction and 18-month sentence to the Supreme Court.
The last appeal is not automatic. The Supreme Court must agree to hear the appeal first, and arguments are underway in the courtroom over whether Azaria must be serving his sentence when he files the request to appeal.
— Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report
Azaria family: The terrorists are laughing at us
Elor Azaria’s mother Oshra yells at the military court judges that “the terrorists are laughing at us to our faces” in the wake of the appeals court’s decision to uphold her son’s manslaughter conviction and 18-month prison sentence.
“All these terrorists are laughing at us,” she repeats.
Charlie Azaria, the ex-soldier’s father, shouts at the prosecutors, “you’re castrating the army.”
Kahlon urges giving ‘space’ to IDF chief of staff on question of pardoning Azaria
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon calls to give IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot the “space” to make his decision about pardoning Elor Azaria.
“Our soldiers were and remain the most ethical warriors in the world,” Kahlon says. “Now, after the judicial process has reached its conclusion, we must give the chief of staff the necessary space to make his decision on [the question of] pardoning Elor Azaria.”
Azaria prosecutor thanks appeals court for focusing on military ethics
Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, the chief prosecutor in the Azaria trial, says two courts, composed of eight different judges, all found Azaria guilty.
He praises the military appeals court for making clear the importance of ethics in Sunday’s ruling, “especially the purity of arms,” an Israeli military term for the imperative not to misuse the lethal power given to soldiers.
— Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report
Four Arab states double down on Qatar boycott
The foreign ministers of four Arab states boycotting Qatar say they will make no compromises in their demand that Doha change its policies, as a political crisis that has split the Gulf approaches its third month.
Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing the emirate of fostering Islamist extremist groups and of ties to Saudi arch-rival Iran. Qatar has denied the allegations.
The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, who meet in the Bahraini capital on Sunday, say they are open to talks with Qatar on condition it “stops its support and financing of terrorism.”
“We reiterate the importance of Qatar’s compliance with the 13 demands outlined by the four states,” says a joint statement released Sunday.
The Saudi-led bloc in June issued the list of demands for the lifting of sanctions, including the termination of regional news giant Al-Jazeera, the downgrading of ties to Iran and the closure of a Turkish military base in the country.
Minister looks to cancel citizenship of fugitive ex-lawmaker Azmi Bishara
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri asks Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to give a legal opinion on whether he has the power to strip fugitive ex-lawmaker Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel as he was being investigated over allegedly spying for Hezbollah, of his citizenship.
“In light of the suspicions [against Bishara],” Deri writes to Mandelblit, “it appears the required conditions are in place for me to exercise the authority given to me to cancel [his] citizenship.”
Article 11 of the Citizenship Law allows the interior minister to cancel the citizenship of someone found to have committed treason.
Deri says Israel’s security services support the move, “which will have implications for deterring” future alleged spies, according to Channel 2.
Two dead in M16 shooting at German nightclub
A Kurdish Iraqi man armed with an M16 automatic rifle opens fire in a packed nightclub in southern Germany early Sunday after a dispute there, killing a bouncer and wounding four people before being shot by police.
The 34-year-old attacker “was critically injured in a shootout with police officers as he left the disco, and later succumbed to his wounds in hospital,” police say in a statement.
“Nothing suggests that there could have been an Islamist or terror background” to the attack at the club, says prosecutor Johannes-Georg Roth.
“Rather, everything points to a personal dispute that had escalated in an unspeakable manner,” he adds.
IDF chief promises ‘serious’ consideration of Azaria pardon request
The IDF chief of staff says he would “seriously” consider easing the 18-month prison sentence upheld today in the case of Elor Azaria.
In a statement, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot says the court made its decision “loud and clear” and had reached its verdict after a “moral, professional and impartial [legal] process.”
The court ruled to uphold the district-level court’s initial ruling of a manslaughter conviction and an 18-month prison sentence for Azaria, who in March 2016 shot dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant who had stabbed one soldier and tried to stab another 11 minutes earlier.
Immediately following the court’s announcement, politicians and public figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, called for Azaria to be pardoned.
As a soldier, such a pardon could only come from Eisenkot or President Reuven Rivlin, who indicated earlier in the day that he would only make such a decision with Eisenkot’s approval.
In his statement, Eiesenkot said, “If Sgt. (res.) Azaria decides to file a request for a reduced sentence, it will be seriously considered, along with a review of the other considerations related to this case and from my commitment to the ethics of the IDF, its soldiers and its service members.”
— Judah Ari Gross
PA to offer millions in subsidies to East Jerusalem protesters
Israel Radio correspondent Gal Berger reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is offering millions of shekels in PA grants to East Jerusalem residents who took part in the protests and riots over the Temple Mount since the July 14 terror attack that sparked two weeks of tension.
Would-be terrorist turns himself in to Tel Aviv police
A 22-year-old man from the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm is under arrest, after telling police officers in Tel Aviv he had planned to carry out a terror attack, Channel 2 reports.
The man approached the police office in the city’s Central Bus Station and said he had planned to stab passersby, and had even obtained a knife for the purpose, but regretted his decision once he arrived and decided to throw away the knife and turn himself in.
According to Channel 2, officers are unable to locate the knife.
The man is taken for questioning by Shin Bet investigators.
Putin: 755 US diplomats must leave Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin says 755 US diplomats must leave the country, after Moscow announces it will expel American staff in retaliation for tough new sanctions from Washington.
The Russian foreign ministry had earlier demanded the US cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by September to 455 — the same number Moscow has in the US.
“More than a thousand people were working and are still working” at the US embassy and consulates, Putin says in an interview with Rossia-24 television. “755 people must stop their activities in Russia.”
Tens of thousands protest Israel in Istanbul
Tens of thousands of people gather in Turkey to denounce Israel following widespread clashes over security measures at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Protesters wave Turkish and Palestinian flags on Sunday at the “Great Jerusalem Meeting” in Istanbul called by the Felicity Party. A jingle with the lyric “Hit, hit Zionists” is playing.
The Islamist party’s leader, Temel Karamollaoglu, tells the crowd that Muslims would not give up on Jerusalem.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel on Friday of trying to take over the Al-Aqsa shrines on the mountaintop considered holy to both Jews and Muslims, under the pretext of fighting terror.
PA grants in East Jerusalem will cover housing, electricity, damages from violence
Channel 2 offers more details on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to provide subsidies to East Jerusalemites in the wake of the tensions and protests of the past two weeks.
According to the television report, the PA has earmarked some $20 million, or NIS 71 million, to support East Jerusalem Palestinians in a range of ways, including paying for university studies, paying off municipal debts, helping private businesses and subsidizing electricity for residents of the Old City.
Some $15 million will go toward upkeep and repairs on homes in East Jerusalem, and all small business owners in the Old City will receive a grant of $1,000 to help offset losses from the violence.
$1,000 each will also go to some 500 “guards” of Al-Aqsa, the channel reports.