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Hebron shooter backpedals on claim al-Sharif could have reached for knife

July 25, 2016 8:15 P.M. (Updated: July 26, 2016 7:23 P.M.)
A file image shows Israeli soldier Elor Azarya at his trial.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Cross-examination began for Israeli soldier Elor Azarya on Monday, during which he reportedly admitted that a knife he previously said was next to the immobilized Palestinian man that he shot dead at point-blank range was actually much further away, undermining arguments that Azarya acted out of self defense.

After Azarya and his defense lawyers reiterated claims in a court hearing on Sunday that Azarya acted to prevent either a stabbing or a bomb attack, Azarya backpedaled on Monday, saying he would not have shot Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif if the only threat had been from the knife, and that the main the threat was a bomb, The Jerusalem Post reported.

While both the prosecution and the defense have accepted al-Sharif could not have reached for a knife, nor was he boobytrapped with explosives, Azarya’s lawyers have tried to argue that the inexperienced 19-year-old Israeli soldier believed he was preventing an attack.

Azarya is facing charges of manslaughter for the point-blank shooting of al-Sharif, who several minutes prior had allegedly stabbed another Israeli soldier alongside another Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, who was also fatally shot in the incident.

The Israeli army prosecution has called the killing “cold-blooded murder.”

Israeli army prosecutor Nadav Weissman on Monday asked Azarya whether the three army commanders who testified against him earlier in the trial had lied under oath, to which Azarya responded: “absolutely,” according to Haaretz.

The commanders unanimously testified that Azarya’s killing of al-Sharif was unjustified. Azarya on Sunday told the court that Israeli military leadership “threw him to the dogs.”

During Sunday’s court hearing, Azarya also revealed to the court that his army major slapped him in the face after he shot and killed al-Sharif, and called for a probe into the major.

When asked why he didn’t immediately report his superior, Azarya reportedly told prosecution: "I told you I was in shock from the incident. I had shot someone for the first time, a terrorist, but a human being. It's the first time I had a real incident, and so that (the slap) wasn't the first thing I was thinking about."

In addition to accusing his army major of being a “100 percent liar,” Azarya stated that his lieutenant colonel had partially lied in his statement and that there were things “he forgot to say.”

The high-profile case drew unprecedented international condemnation toward the Israeli army, after footage was immediately released showing the brutal killing, and subsequently released footage showed both an Israeli soldier and ambulance driver kicking the knife closer to al-Sharif’s body.

However, despite Azarya being thrown into the spotlight for being caught in the act, Israel has come under repeated criticism for what many have termed a “shoot-to-kill” policy against Palestinians advocated by Israeli officials since a wave of unrest began last October

Following the March 25 shooting, Amnesty International said that the incident mirrored a number which took place previously.

“Israeli forces have a long history of carrying out unlawful killings -- including extrajudicial executions -- in the occupied Palestinian territories with impunity," Philip Luther, director of the organization’s Middle East and North Africa Program said.

"While it is encouraging that the soldier in the video has reportedly been suspended and placed under investigation, previous Israeli investigations have failed to hold members of the Israeli forces accountable even when there has been clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing."

Israeli rights group B’Tselem has accused Israeli soldiers and police officers of acting as “judge, jury and executioner” for Palestinians during the past few months of unrest, also blaming official encouragement and effective impunity for Israeli soldiers.

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