Hebron shooter discharged from IDF, released to house arrest
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Hebron shooter discharged from IDF, released to house arrest

Elor Azaria welcomed home with balloons and supportive signs, will remain confined there until ruling on his appeal

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Elor Azaria arrives to an appeals hearing at a courtroom IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters on May 17, 2017. (Flash90)
Elor Azaria arrives to an appeals hearing at a courtroom IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters on May 17, 2017. (Flash90)

An IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian assailant was released to house arrest on Thursday upon the completion of his mandatory army service.

Ahead of Elor Azaria’s release, his family’s house in the central city of Ramle was festooned with signs and balloons welcoming the former Kfir Brigade soldier home.

On Monday, a military court ruled that Azaria would be released to full house arrest upon his release from the IDF until a decision is made regarding his appeal.

Under the court decision, Azaria will not be able to leave his family’s house at all, save for trips to his synagogue on Friday night and Saturday — the Jewish Shabbat — so long as he is accompanied by a family member.

On January 4, a military court found Azaria guilty of manslaughter for killing an incapacitated Palestinian stabber who had minutes earlier attacked two soldiers on March 24, 2016. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and was demoted to private.

Azaria has spent the bulk of the past year and three months — from the time of his arrest through the trial and during the appeal process — on a closed army base, in a form of military house arrest.

Azaria’s attorneys appealed the conviction in March. The prosecution, meanwhile, filed its own appeal, arguing that the soldier’s light sentence did not match the severity of his crime.

A military appellate court is expected to rule on both appeals on July 30.

On Monday the prosecution and defense gathered in the military appellate court in the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters to present their view of what should be done with Azaria once he is discharged.

Yoram Sheftel, attorney of Elor Azarial, arrives for a court hearing at the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters on July 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yoram Sheftel, attorney of Elor Azarial, arrives for a court hearing at the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters on July 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The defense, led by Yoram Sheftel, argued that Azaria did not pose a threat and should therefore be given a partial house arrest, which would only require him to stay at home in the evening.

The prosecution, led by Lt. Col. (res.) Nadav Weissman, argued for full house arrest, citing precedent.

The court accepted Weissman’s arguments.

His time at home will not count toward his 18-month sentence, but nine days he spent in jail immediately after the killing will be deducted from his term, judges ruled earlier this year.

In their appeal, Azaria’s attorneys contended that the prosecution lacked key evidence and that the military was arbitrarily applying the law, as other soldiers had not been convicted or even tried under similar circumstances

Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, military prosecutor in the trial against IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following the verdict of Azaria on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, military prosecutor in the trial against IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following the verdict of Azaria on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Conversely, the prosecutors claimed Azaria’s 18-month sentence was insufficient in relation to the severity of his crime, citing similar cases in which soldiers received stiffer punishments.

After hearing both sides’ arguments through the month of May, the military appellate court encouraged the prosecution and defense to “rise above” the enmity and attempt out-of-court mediation in order to resolve the case. Weissman initially refused, but eventually acquiesced.

In June, IDF chief prosecutor Col. Sharon Zagagi Pinchas oversaw a meeting between Weissman and lead defense attorney Sheftel as part of the court mandated mediation efforts, the army said in a statement

But the mediation failed.

The divisive case has exposed deep rifts in Israeli society, with some seeing Azaria as a hero and others as a criminal.

The appeal hearings have at times been acrimonious, with the two sides trading barbs and, at times, raising their voices, but sources said the June meeting was to the point and professional, despite being ultimately unhelpful.

While this is not the first time an IDF soldier has been convicted of manslaughter, it is an exceedingly rare occurrence, as most cases are settled through a plea deal in order to avoid a trial. The few cases in which IDF soldiers have been found guilty were under completely different circumstances, giving judges little in the way of precedent to determine sentencing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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