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Over 1,000 turn out to cheer soldier accused in Hebron killing

Yisrael Beytenu head MK Avigdor Liberman says defense minister’s calls for suspect to be charged are harming the IDF

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israelis protest outside a military court in support of a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)
Israelis protest outside a military court in support of a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)

Upwards of 1,000 demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside the Qastina military court to express support for a soldier arrested over the shooting death of a wounded Palestinian assailant last week, in a case that has sparked a fierce debate in the Knesset and across the country.

Most of the protesters chanted in favor of the soldier and demanded his release, though some yelled out racist slogans against Arabs and invoked the ultranationalistic Kahane movement.

At the rally, Yisrael Beytenu party head MK Avigdor Liberman claimed there was no basis for the accusations against the soldier. Liberman went on to attack Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who on Monday leveled harsh criticism against lawmakers who had expressed support for the soldier.

“The claim [against the soldier] has collapsed, I’m sure he will be acquitted,” Liberman said. “I’m sorry that [Ya’alon] has determined in advance the results of the military investigation. This harms the military.”

Liberman claimed Ya’alon “revealed details of the investigation” into the incident during remarks he made to the Knesset on Monday, and said “I don’t trust the defense minister” given his handling of the affair.

Meanwhile inside the court, at a hearing for the soldier, a military prosecutor stated he believed the suspect had deliberately executed the Palestinian, but hinted he may not be charged with murder. The prosecutor said the accused man shot the Palestinian stabber in the head though the assailant no longer posed a threat.

An IDF soldier was moderately wounded in the attack, in Hebron on Thursday, during the course of which another Palestinian assailant was shot and killed.

The soldier, whose name is being withheld from publication, was filmed shooting a wounded and nearly motionless Palestinian assailant in the head some ten minutes after he had already been shot and incapacitated. The soldier was arraigned Friday on suspicion of murder, drawing anger from his family, right-wing politicians and others who claim the army was passing judgment before probing the incident.

Knesset member Avigdor Liberman arrives at a military court to show support for a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)
Knesset member Avigdor Liberman arrives at a military court to show support for a soldier who was charged for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 (Flash90)

The prosecutor hinted on Monday the soldier may face manslaughter charges, walking backing a statement Friday that he could face murder charges.

“We are trying to decide what he could be charged with, including manslaughter,” the prosecutor said at the hearing.

The prosecutor also said the soldier, who originally said the Palestinian assailant posed a threat, had changed his recounting of the incident during questioning.

Senior IDF officials and Ya’alon, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have defended the decision to charge the soldier and insisted that his actions violated the army’s ethical code.

Ya’alon has also castigated fellow lawmakers for “inciting” against army brass while defending the soldier.

An IDF soldier who was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head attends a hearing in his case at a military court near Kiryat Malachi on March 29, 2016 (POOL/Flash90)
An IDF soldier who was filmed shooting a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head attends a hearing in his case at a military court near Kiryat Malachi on March 29, 2016 (POOL/Flash90)

According to the army, the soldier said before shooting the surviving Palestinian stabber that he should be killed, and told his commanders afterward that the assailant had deserved to die.

In Israel, the incident quickly escalated into a national debate about the IDF’s rules of engagement and its use of force in regards to Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Monday for the soldier to be brought to justice.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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