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Elor Azarya released from prison on 4-day furlough for Rosh Hashanah

Sept. 20, 2017 11:30 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 20, 2017 4:51 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Former Israeli soldier Elor Azarya, convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian in Hebron in 2016, was released from prison for a four-day furlough for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, according to Israeli media reports.

Israel's Channel 20 reported that Azarya was granted the furlough that started 8 a.m. Wednesday and that he will return to prison 9 a.m. on Sunday, according to a translation in English by Israel National News.

According to the report, Israeli soldiers are usually only granted furloughs from prison after serving a third of their sentence. Azaraya began serving his 18-month sentence only last month.

The report cited Azarya's lawyer Yoram Sheftel as saying that for "the first time since the beginning affair" -- since Azarya was caught on video shooting Abd al-Fatah al-Sharif in the head at point-blank range -- Israeli military authorities treated his client fairly, by granting the furlough.

"Let us hope that this is a swallow which heralds the arrival of Spring and a significant relief from the army's punishment," Sheftel reportedly said.

Azarya was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a year and a half in prison for shooting and killing 21-year-old al-Sharif as the disarmed Palestinian lay severely wounded on the ground after allegedly committing a stabbing attack in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron in March 2016.

Azarya shot al-Sharif in the head, with a number of witnesses quoting him as saying "this dog is still alive," and "this terrorist deserves to die" before he pulled the trigger.

Over the course of the trial -- during which the soldier received family visits at his "open detention" on a military base and was furloughed at least once -- Azarya received widespread support from the Israeli public and was labelled a national hero under the slogan "Israel's son."

Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy in general has received widespread support among Israeli citizens, as a 2016 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 47 percent of Jewish Israelis supported the sentiment that “any Palestinian who carries out a terror attack against Jews should be killed on the spot, even if he has been captured and clearly does not pose a threat.”

The case has been denounced as a “show trial” for focusing on the case 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 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 meanwhile launched a "frenetic campaign" against Palestinian authorities' payment of allowances to Palestinian prisoners and their families.

Azarya's holiday furlough also comes as Israeli authorities implemented a general closure on the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip for Rosh Hashanah, when only humanitarian, medical, and exceptionally urgent cases are allowed to enter or exit Israel from the occupied Palestinian territory.

Israel's imposition of closures on the Palestinian territory has severely affected the livelihoods of Palestinians who depend on entering Israel, or its illegal settlements, for employment opportunities, medical care, other reasons. Such policies have been strongly criticized by rights groups for amounting to collective punishment.
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