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Early release for soldier who killed British activist

July 19, 2010 6:47 P.M. (Updated: July 21, 2010 9:21 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - An Israeli soldier convicted of shooting dead a British peace activist has been granted an early release from prison, the Israeli press reported Monday.

A military committee accepted Taysir Hayb’s appeal, and he will be free in one month, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Monday.

Hayb shot Tom Hurndall, who died aged 22, during an incident on Gaza’s southern border.

Witnesses reported that the British citizen was watching children play on a street in Rafah when Israeli soldiers opened fire. Most of the children fled, but three, aged between four and seven, were paralyzed by fear.

Hurndall took one of the children to safety and was returning for the two others when Hayb shot him in his forehead.

After a two hour delay at the border, Hurndall was taken to hospital, where he remained in a coma until his death nine months later.

Hayb, an award-winning marksman, faced court after intense pressure from the British government and Hurndall’s parents and in his initial testimony, claimed that he had aimed four inches from Hurndall’s head but missed.

He also claimed Hurndall was wearing military fatigues, although photographic evidence showed he was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket to show he was a foreigner.

The soldier later changed his testimony and "admitted to firing in proximity to an unarmed civilian as a deterrent,” an Israeli army statement at the time said.

An Israeli military court convicted Hayb in 2005 and sentenced him to eight years in prison. During the trial, Hayb said that a policy of shooting unarmed civilians existed at the time.

Hurndall’s killing came one month after US activist Rachel Corrie was killed by a military bulldozer as she tried to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah, and one month later British journalist James Miller was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in the same area.

A British inquest in 2006 found Hurndall was intentionally killed. “Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defense force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder,” the family’s lawyer Michael Mansfield said after the hearing.

In his appeal for early release, Hayb told the committee he is engaged and wishes to start a family, Ynet reported.

In journals released by Hurndall’s family since his death, the young photographer wrote, “I want to be proud of myself. I want more. I want to look up to myself and when I die, I want to smile because of the things I have done, not cry for the things I haven't done.”

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