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Israeli soldier's self-defense narrative further unravels in Hebron execution trial

July 26, 2016 7:20 P.M. (Updated: July 27, 2016 2:05 P.M.)
A file image shows Israeli soldier Elor Azarya at his trial.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The testimony of Elor Azarya continued for the third day on Tuesday, with the 19-year-old Israeli soldier’s self-defense narrative of his point-blank execution of Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif further unraveling under the Israeli army prosecution's cross-examination.

Azarya told the court Tuesday that he waited two minutes after he saw al-Sharif move before he fatally shot the severely wounded Palestinian, in contradiction to his testimony just two days prior, when he claimed he had reacted immediately, The Jerusalem Post reported from the trial.

Israeli army lead prosecutor Nadav Weissman asked Azarya: "You admit you gave wrong answers to military police?" to which Azarya replied: "You always catch me in word games. I am a simple soldier."

Weissman continued to press Azarya, asking him who he had actually told about his fear of a bomb.

Three of his commanders have testified against Azarya, with the highest ranking commander in the case saying he only became aware of an alleged bomb scare after hearing reports from Israeli media later in the day.

Azarya testified Tuesday that he told a woman medic on the phone after the shooting that he had feared there was a bomb. “The issue was not mentioned, however, in testimony already provided by the medic,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The prosecution, with the help of the judge, also further undermined Azarya’s repeated claim that al-Sharif’s bulky jacket raised suspicions he was concealing explosives; he had reportedly told military police that the day of the killing -- March 24 -- was a hot 30 degrees Celsius in Hebron.

A meteorologist presented the actual temperature to court as 17 degrees Celsius, while Weissman was able show that five others in the area were wearing similar coats to al-Sharif.

According to The Post’s court reporter, Azarya then “tried to ignore the meteorologist’s statistics, saying what mattered was his subjective view of how hot it was, but (Israeli army) Judge Col. Maya Heller shot this down, saying 17 degrees Celsius was an objective number.”

In Weissman’s cross-examination the day before, Azarya backpedaled on his claims that he had acted to prevent either a stabbing or a bomb attack, by admitting that al-Sharif could not have reached for a knife, and reframed his argument to focus on the perceived threat of a bomb only.

However on Tuesday, the prosecution cited the testimony of one of Azarya’s fellow soldiers -- whose identity is under Israeli army gag order -- which revealed a bomb squad had already been called to the scene.

"If I had an alternative, as far as I'm concerned, if I could have neutralized him without shooting, I would have done so," Haaretz quoted him as saying during his testimony.

According to The Post, the prosecution tried to argue that Azarya lied about being unaware of the bomb squad being en route to justify the shooting was the only option open to him.

Weissman reportedly claimed on Tuesday he proved the prosecution’s main argument through his relentless questioning -- that Azarya killed al-Sharif out of revenge for stabbing his fellow soldier.

During Tuesday’s proceedings, the prosecutor also reportedly showed Azarya the footage of the shooting and asked him to point at when he looked like he was "on the alert."

Azarya previously blamed the military leadership for mismanaging the scene, and said that he responded to a threat while others were milling about "complacently."

The prosecutor said it appeared Azarya was behaving the same as everyone else, "except for that you shot the terrorist in the head without warning," Haaretz quoted Weissman as saying.

Echoing his statements about the day’s temperature, the young soldier made another case for his subjectivity. "As far as I'm concerned the videotapes are not the world of reality. I'm telling you I was on the alert."

The high-profile case drew unprecedented international condemnation toward the Israeli army, after a video clip was immediately released showing the brutal killing, and subsequently released footage showed both an Israeli soldier and ambulance driver tampering with evidence.

Despite Azarya being thrown into the spotlight for being caught in the act -- with his own commanders testifying that the shooting was unjustified and the Israeli army prosecution branding the case “cold-blooded murder” -- many have said the case is just a documented example of a wider “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 had taken 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 at the time.

"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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