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Israeli army commander testifies soldier had no justification for shooting al-Sharif

June 16, 2016 10:24 P.M. (Updated: June 23, 2016 4:24 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An Israeli army commander testified in court Thursday that Elor Azarya, the Israeli soldier who shot dead Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif while he was lying wounded on the ground after an alleged attempted stabbing in Hebron, saying there was no “operational justification” for Azarya’s actions, according to Israeli media.

The company commander for Azarya, Maj. Tom Naaman, recounted to the court the chilling moments after the execution-style killing that took place in Hebron’s Old City on March 24, for which Azarya is now on trial for manslaughter.

"I approached him and asked, 'Why did you do it?',” Naaman said during his testimony. “He answered me, 'This terrorist was alive, and he needs to die.'" 

"I was angry at him for doing this. Essentially a shooting had been conducted at the scene that I was in charge of, without my permission," Naaman added.

Naaman also added that prior to Azarya’s killing of al-Sharif, no one seemed concerned with al-Sharif as he was lying immobilized on the ground, nor had any one suggested al-Sharif could be booby-trapped with explosives.

Azarya has said he feared that al-Sharif may have been carrying an explosive device, though Naaman testified on Thursday that he did not notice anything suspicious about al-Sharif’s clothing that would indicate a bomb or booby trap of any kind. 

The military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Nadav Weisman, asked Naaman if he had made an evaluation regarding a bomb or explosive belt, to which Naaman answered negatively.

Naaman said he noted that the "terrorist dressed in black was moving his head. I saw the knife. It was relatively far away, not within his grasp."

New video footage surfaced earlier this month of an Israeli ambulance driver kicking a knife towards the body of al-Sharif.

The video footage, obtained by Israel's Channel Two, was expected to be shown to an Israeli military court to disprove earlier claims by Azarya that he shot the young Palestinian point-blank in the head after al-Sharif moved to grab a knife, according to the Israeli media outlet Ynet.

The footage shows that the knife allegedly used in the attack was far from al-Sharif when he was shot, notably showing an ambulance driving over the knife before it was kicked closer to al-Sharif’s body.

Earlier during the trial on Thursday, a pathologist who examined his body testified that al-Sharif would have survived had Azarya not shot a bullet through his head.

“The other bruises and damage were not lethal, not immediately,” said the pathologist, Dr. Hadas Gips. “Had he received medical care immediately he would almost certainly have survived. Even without it -- the deceased might have survived.”

The commander's testimony comes on the heals of a revelation earlier this month that the second Palestinian killed alongside al-Sharif was also shot in the head execution style, after witness accounts started to emerge. 

In a statement, B’Tselem said it had spoken with two witnesses from the Tel Rumeida area of the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron, where al-Sharif, 21, and Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, 21, were shot and killed after the two allegedly stabbed and moderately wounded an Israeli soldier at a military checkpoint.

The graphic video released of al-Sharif’s death the day of the incident was met with wide condemnation, with the UN demanding an investigation into apparent "extrajudicial execution." 

Meanwhile, it had been widely accepted that al-Qasrawi was killed immediately by the initial shots fired by Israeli soldiers to thwart the alleged stab attack.

However, according to information collected by a B’Tselem field researcher, testimony from Tel Rumeida residents regarding the death of al-Qasrawi, who was killed before al-Sharif, “raised concerns that al-Qasrawi was also executed with a shot to the head, as he lay injured on the ground after having been hit by gunfire elsewhere in his body.”

According to two eyewitnesses, the B’Tselem statement added, “after both al-Sharif and al-Qasrawi were lying injured on the road, clearly posing no danger to anyone, and even before additional troops and the paramedics arrived on the scene, a soldier (or officer) went up to al-Qasrawi and shot him twice in the neck or head from several meters away.”

When contacted for comment, an Israeli army spokesperson dismissed the latest B'Tselem report.

"The claims made by the organization B'Tselem are not consistent with the findings of the operational investigation and contradict the information available to the IDF (Israeli army) concerning this event. The shooting of the assailant was carried out to remove the threat posed by the assailant when he attacked security forces with a knife," she told Ma'an.

However, footage taken by the eyewitnesses after the moment when al-Qasrawi, wearing a light gray sweater, was reportedly killed showed blood flowing from the young Palestinian’s head

Palestinians have in the past voiced strong distrust of Israeli probes into violations carried out in the occupied area, and Amnesty International last summer said Israel’s system of military investigation failed to meet the standard criteria for effective investigations.

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