PM urges pardon for soldier who killed wounded stabber
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PM urges pardon for soldier who killed wounded stabber

Netanyahu says jail time for Elor Azaria may send chilling effect through army, stopping troops from acting; says it may have been ‘a mistake’ to call fatal incident in Bedouin village last month terror

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, right, meet with students during a visit to the Moriah War Memorial College in Sydney on February 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Dean Lewins)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, right, meet with students during a visit to the Moriah War Memorial College in Sydney on February 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Dean Lewins)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Thursday for soldier Elor Azaria to be pardoned, two days after the combat medic was sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a disarmed and wounded Palestinian stabber in Hebron last year.

Netanyahu had also called for a pardon last month after Azaria was convicted of manslaughter in the case, joining other politicians — mostly on the right — who have urged that the soldier be granted clemency.

Speaking from Australia, where he is on a state visit, Netanyahu also admitted that a deadly incident in which a policeman and driver were killed in a Bedouin village last month may not have been a terror attack as he claimed earlier, saying he had based his allegation on accounts provided by the police.

Azaria, 21, was sentenced on Tuesday to 18 months in prison and handed an additional two suspended sentences — one for 12 months and the other for six — by the military court at the IDF headquarters in the Kirya base in Tel Aviv. He was also demoted in rank to private.

Azaria had been filmed shooting and killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who was lying on the ground wounded and disarmed after stabbing a soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron. The case had deeply divided the country.

Netanyahu told reporters on Thursday that Azaria should be pardoned because of the special circumstances of the case and the implications for other soldiers in the future.

“Soldiers in dangerous situations could be deterred [from acting out of fear that they could be prosecuted], and therefore there must be understanding and progress toward a pardon,” he said.

IDF soldier Elor Azaria, right, convicted on the manslaughter of a wounded Palestinian, is embraced by his mother Oshra at the start of his sentencing hearing in a military court in Tel Aviv, February 21, 2017. (AFP/POOL/ JIM HOLLANDER)
IDF soldier Elor Azaria, right, convicted on the manslaughter of a wounded Palestinian, is embraced by his mother Oshra at the start of his sentencing hearing in a military court in Tel Aviv, February 21, 2017. (AFP/POOL/ JIM HOLLANDER)

While many right-wing politicians have called for a pardon for Azaria, others, including from Netayahu’s own Likud party, have criticized such calls as an effort to politicize the case.

Azaria’s defense team is weighing an appeal.

As regards the fatal incident in Umm al-Hiran last month, the prime minister said he had checked three times with the police before backing allegations by police and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that it was a terror attack, and that it was important now to wait for the final results of the investigation.

“If there was a mistake, we’ll need to say that we made a mistake, but I”ll wait for the official report.”

Erdan (Likud) and Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich initially asserted that Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an was a nationalistically motivated terrorist, and said he was inspired by the Islamic State group.

They said he was shot after accelerating his vehicle, with its lights off, in the direction of police officers, killing one of them, before he was killed.

A Justice Ministry investigation, however, has reportedly found that the incident was not terrorism. Erdan has backtracked in the last two days. Abu al-Qia’an’s family has asked that he apologize.

The incident took place in the early morning of January 18, when police arrived to demolish houses in the unrecognized village, which the state was seeking to remove in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

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