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Prosecution rejects Hebron soldier’s request to defer sentence

Elor Azaria, who killed a disarmed terrorist, seeking leniency from IDF chief after court rejected his appeal of manslaughter conviction

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, a soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting an injured, disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron, seen during an appeal hearing at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv,  July 30, 2017. (FLASH90)
IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, a soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting an injured, disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron, seen during an appeal hearing at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, July 30, 2017. (FLASH90)

Military prosecutors on Monday said they opposed a request by former IDF soldier Elor Azaria to defer his entry to prison until the chief of staff rules on whether to commute his manslaughter sentence.

After a military court rejected his appeal last month, Azaria asked IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to commute or shorten his 18-month sentence.

On Sunday, he filed a request with the Military Court of Appeals for the start of his sentence to be deferred until after Eisenkot announces his decision.

But military prosecutors rejected the requested delay, citing legal norms and the severity of Azaria’s crime.

“Deferring a punishment is the exception to the rule,” the prosecutors wrote in their decision. “A soldier who has committed an offense, and certainly one who has committed such a serious offense like the one the defendant has been found guilty of, should serve their sentence immediately.

“The position of the military is consistent with effective law enforcement practices and public interest,” the prosecutors said.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot addresses the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on July 5, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot addresses the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on July 5, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Azaria is expected to enter Prison Four in Tzrifin base in central Israel on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Azaria was tried after video emerged showing him shooting to death Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron in March 2016, approximately 11 minutes after Sharif had been shot, injured and disarmed while trying to stab two soldiers.

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

On July 30, Azaria’s conviction and sentence were upheld by a military court, which dismissed his testimony that he’d feared for his life, citing his nonchalance in the moments before he opened fire and killed Sharif.

Shortly after the appeals court’s verdict, Eisenkot said in a statement that he would seriously consider a request for leniency from Azaria. However, a senior military source later clarified that that would only be an option if Azaria expressed “real” remorse for his actions, something Azaria had not done up until that point.

Such contrition was absent from his first-ever public statement, which he posted as a video to Facebook last Thursday. “I promise you that I acted out of a sense of immediate danger at the scene of the attack. But the court gave its ruling, and we live in a nation of laws. So I’m going to serve the prison sentence handed down, in the hope that it will be reduced,” he said.

Eisenkot has in the past expressed criticism of a public perception of Azaria as “everybody’s child.” He also said the case was rife with “manipulations and lies.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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