Israeli soldier who shot downed Palestinian should get plea deal, judges say at trial start

(JTA) – The panel of judges in the military trial of the Israeli soldier captured on video shooting an already downed Palestinian assailant in the head urged the two sides to reach a plea agreement, saying the evidence was weak.

The manslaughter charges against Sgt. Elor Azaria, 19, of Ramle, were read Monday as the trial got underway in Jaffa Military Court. Azaria also is accused of violating the rules of conduct and inappropriate conduct.

The three-judge panel denied the soldier’s request to be furloughed for Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Azaria was granted a release for Passover last month.

Azaria is being held in open detention on his military base until the end of the case. He has freedom of movement on the base but cannot carry a firearm or be in contact with witnesses.

In March, Azaria shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron, a West Bank city that was a focal point in a seven-month wave of Palestinian violence against Israelis. He arrived on the scene after al-Sharif and an accomplice had stabbed Israeli soldiers and the accomplice had been killed.

The soldier has said that when he shot al-Sharif, who was lying on his back unarmed, he feared the Palestinian man might be about to detonate an explosive. Al-Sharif was wearing a bulky coat.

The autopsy showed that the soldier’s shot to the head was what killed the assailant.

According to the indictment, Azaria did not believe the assailant was an immediate danger to those around him when he shot the Palestinian.

The case marks the first time in over 10 years that an Israeli soldier has been charged with manslaughter for a killing that took place during field operations.

The case has generated considerable controversy among Israelis, with some outraged that Azaria violated the military’s rules of engagement by shooting someone who was supine and unarmed and others that he is being disciplined at all.

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