Elor Azaria, the former Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker, was released from prison on Tuesday morning.
Azaria was originally scheduled to be released on Thursday after serving two-thirds of his sentence, in accordance with a decision by the army’s prison parole board. But he asked to be released on Tuesday to take part in his brother’s wedding on Wednesday, and military officials approved the request.
“Pvt. Elor Azaria was discharged from Prison Base 394 this morning, after he served his sentence,” the army said in a statement.
Azaria completed nine months of his 14-month sentence for killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2016.
He was also demoted to the rank of private.
Azaria was greeted at his home in the central city of Ramle with what appeared to be a grand celebration, with decorations and custom-printed T-shirts.
“How good it is that you’re home, Elor, our soldier,” one sign read.
בלעדי תמונה ראשונה של אלאור אזריה בביתו מורן על ידי גיסו יוסי גוזלן pic.twitter.com/P5xlzGJQTQ
— ???????? נועם אמיר (@noamamir74) May 8, 2018
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who initially denounced Azaria but later called for him to be pardoned, said he was “glad that this is over.”
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz called for Azaria’s criminal record to be erased. “It was time for Elor to go home to his family and friends. I appeal to President Reuven Rivlin to act now to delete Elor’s criminal record so that he can integrate into civilian life and get on with his life.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted a picture of Azaria at home with his family, and wrote: “Elor, it’s so good to have you home.”
אלאור, כמה טוב שבאת הביתה! pic.twitter.com/SUN1bFcYn4
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) May 8, 2018
Azaria, the so-called “Hebron shooter,” was found guilty last year of killing Sharif, who several minutes earlier had attacked two IDF soldiers with a knife. In February 2017, Azaria was sentenced to an 18-month prison term, which IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot later shortened by four months. Azaria began serving his term on August 9.
Azaria has never expressed remorse for his actions. He has maintained that he opened fire because he believed Sharif had a bomb hidden under his clothes. A military court, however, dismissed that claim, citing the soldier’s nonchalance in the moments before he killed Sharif, and his statements to fellow soldiers that the assailant deserved to die for attacking his comrades.
The Hebron shooter case revealed deep divisions in Israeli society over the army’s activities in the West Bank, with some — mostly on the right — arguing that he had behaved heroically in killing the Palestinian assailant, while others said he had broken the law and deserved a harsher sentence than he received.
Judah Ari Gross and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.