Jerusalem: An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead Palestinian assailant was freed from prison on Tuesday, the army said, after serving nine months behind bars.
Elor Azaria was initially sentenced to 18 months in prison for the 2016 killing of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Armed forces chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot later reduced the term by four months and in March a parole board ordered a further cut. The army had previously said that Azaria was due to be released on May 10.
Israeli media said he was freed two days early from Tzrifim military prison, near Tel Aviv, to allow him to attend his brother’s wedding. “I can confirm that he was released,” an army spokseman told AFP on Tuesday. Prisoners in Israel often have their sentences cut by a third for good behaviour. Azaria, who was 19 at the time of the 2016 shooting, began serving his sentence on August 9. The shooting incident was caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online.
It showed Sharif, 21, lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army. Some 11 minutes after the initial shooting, Azaria, a sergeant and military medic at the time of the incident, shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.
He said he feared Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and could blow himself up, a claim judges rejected. The trial captivated Israel and highlighted deep divisions in public opinion between those who denounced the shooting and others who said it was justified.
Senior army officers strongly denounced Azaria’s actions, but right-wing politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called for him to be pardoned.