05/10/2016, 09.55
ISRAEL - PALESTINE
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Trial begins against Israeli soldier who killed a helpless and wounded Palestinian

Jaffa court opens proceedings against 19 year old Sergeant Elor Azaria, on trial for manslaughter. The defense proclaims the innocence of the defendant, who acted in accordance with the rules of engagement. The judges invites parties to plea bargain. The prosecution has a week to decide whether to accept or reject the request.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The trial of the Israeli soldier on charges of manslaughter for shooting a young Palestinian assailant lying helpless on the ground in cold blood opened yesterday afternoon in the military court in Jaffa. The 19 year-old army sergeant Elor Azaria opened fire and shot the 21-year old Palestinian Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the head during an attempted attack on Israeli soldiers in Hebron, West Bank.

Asked by the judges, the sergeant dismissed the charge of violating the rules of engagement laid down by Israel.

Last month, thousands of people took to the streets in defense of the soldier, calling loudly for his release claiming he had acted according to the law and in defense of the country and its citizens.

However human rights activists and organizations say that sergeant Azaria carried out an extrajudicial killing and therefore must face the consequences of his crime.

The case dates back to March 24 last and shows the deep rift within the Israeli society, not only among those for and against the soldier’s sentencing but also on policies toward the Palestinians and on security.

The military shot the young Palestinian, who had previously attacked other soldiers with a knife, wounding them. The assailant was already lying on the ground, in a position of being unable to cause further harm and also wounded. Nevertheless, the soldier pointed his gun at the young man and fired, killing him instantly.

Binyamin Malka, one of the young soldier’s lawyers said at the start of the proceedings that "the truth will emerge. The road is long. We are ready to stand up" to defend the truth.

For the military prosecutor, Elor Azaria "violated the rules of engagement, in the absence of an operational justification", because "the terrorist was lying wounded on the ground" and at that time "did not constitute an immediate threat to the defendant or other persons present".

Images filmed by a Palestinian and distributed by B'Tselem activists show the Israeli soldier shooting the Palestinian militant, who is lying on the ground, without the latter making any gesture or provocation. Shortly before the shot some soldiers are heard exclaiming, in Hebrew, "the dog is still alive". Then the gun shots and the soldier who opened fire shouting: "This terrorist deserves to die."

In his defense, sergeant Azariah claims he shot fearing that Abdul Fatah al-Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and wanted to blow himself up. But this version contrasts the words he himself shouted before opening fire and, according to a second video, released in recent days, in which we see that the knife is at least one meter away from the Palestinian lying on the ground.

During the first hearing, the judges (a jury of three professionals) invited the parties to bargain, reaching a compromise solution. The prosecution has a week to accept (or reject) the request.

Since October last year, following ultra-Orthodox Jews provocation of praying on Temple Mount, there have been multiple violent episodes in Israel and the Palestinian territories, in the context of the so-called "intifada of knives".

So far 184 Palestinians, 28 Israelis, two Americans, a Sudanese and one Eritrean have been killed. Most Palestinians were shot dead as they tried to carry out stabbings or car rammings on passersby or Israeli soldiers. Others were killed during demonstrations or clashes with the military.

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