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Israeli army chief commutes Elor Azarya's sentence by 4 months

Sept. 27, 2017 3:35 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 28, 2017 7:02 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli army chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot reduced the prison sentence of former Israeli soldier Elor Azarya, convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing a severely wounded Palestinian in the southern occupied West Bank city Hebron in 2016, Israeli media reported Wednesday.

Israeli news daily Haaretz said that, assuming Azarya gets one-third of his sentence off for good behavior, he could be released as early as March 30, 2018. If not, he would serve until September 30, 2018.

Azarya was sentenced to 18 months in prison for committing the filmed, close-range shooting of 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif, as the disarmed Palestinian lay immobile on the ground after allegedly committing a stabbing attack.

Azarya began serving his 18-month sentence only last month, in what was denounced by Palestinians and human rights groups as an already lenient sentence, with al-Sharif’s family noting that the soldier received less prison time than a Palestinian child would for throwing stones.

The Israeli military appeals court later rejected the appeal of his conviction as well as the severity for his sentence.

In August, Azarya’s defense team requested that Azarya’s prison sentence be postponed until Eisenkot ruled on whether to reduce Azarya’s sentence, but the request was also rejected by the military court of appeals.

Now, Eisenkot has formally ruled to commute Azarya’s sentence by four months.

Eisenkot's decision goes against the position of the Israeli army prosecution that had wanted a three to five year prison sentence at trial and no reduced sentence by the Israeli army chief.

The military advocate general, Gen. Sharon Afek, also reportedly submitted a document to Eisenkot expressing his absolute opposition to reducing Azarya's sentence under the current circumstances.

Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post wrote that: “(Eisenkot) said that his decision in no way took away from his staunch disapproval of Azarya's actions, but that given that a clear message was sent to all soldiers not to act like the Hebron shooter, he would partially reduce Azarya's sentence purely out of considerations of compassion.”

However, the case has been denounced by Palestinians as a “show trial” for focusing on Azarya to distract from a wider culture of impunity for Israeli forces, as Azarya was charged with manslaughter for what was termed by rights groups as an “extrajudicial execution” and by the victim’s family as “cold-blooded murder.”

The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs has meanwhile documented how Israelis convicted of murdering Palestinians and anti-Palestinian extremist organizations receive financial and legal support from the state of Israel as a matter of policy, while Israeli authorities have launched a parallel campaign against Palestinian authorities' payment of allowances to Palestinian prisoners and their families.

According to the committee, since Azarya was first detained, he has been granted multiple furloughs -- most recently for Rosh Hashanah this month, continued to receive his salary from the Israeli army, while his father founded a charitable organization and named it after him that has received more than 8 million shekels ($2.25 million) in donations.
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