Israel soldier who shot wounded Palestinian charged with manslaughter

The case has led to major controversy in Israel and sparked political tensions after a video of the killing was circulated.

An Israeli solider sits inside an Israeli military court in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 18, 2016 awaiting the hearing. The military court has indicted the soldier, Sgt Elor Azria, for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground during the incident on March 24 in Hebron. Ariel Schalit/AP Photo
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Jaffa, Israel // An Israeli soldier caught on video shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head was charged with manslaughter on Monday.

The shooting, which occurred minutes after the Palestinian had stabbed another soldier and lay prone on the ground wounded by gunfire, sparked widespread controversy when a video of the March 24 killing was circulated.

“The accused violated the rules of engagement without operational justification as the terrorist was lying on the ground wounded and represented no immediate threat for the accused or others who were present,” a copy of the indictment said.

“By his acts, the accused unlawfully caused the death of the terrorist Abdul Sharif.”

The 19-year-old soldier, who also holds French citizenship, was named as Sgt Elor Azria after a gag order was lifted. He was also charged with inappropriate military conduct.

He will be freed from custody to spend one night with his family to mark the beginning of the Jewish festival of Passover on Friday.

Footage of the incident in Hebron – a West Bank city that has been a focal point of a seven-month wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence – spread widely online and the soldier was arrested, with rights groups labelling it a summary execution.

The video showed Abdul Fatah Al Sharif, 21, lying on the ground, shot along with another man after stabbing and moderately wounding a soldier minutes earlier, according to the army.

The soldier then shoots him again, in the head, without any apparent provocation.

His lawyers have argued that the soldier may have thought the Palestinian was wearing explosives, but he was reportedly already checked for a suicide belt and no one in the video appears to be acting with caution toward him.

The case has led to major controversy in Israel and sparked political tensions, with far-right supporters and politicians calling for the soldier’s release.

Top military brass, however, have strongly condemned his actions. The killing came amid a wave of violence that began in October and which has killed 201 Palestinians and 28 Israelis.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

The sentencing came as Israel’s military on Monday said it had located and destroyed a tunnel extending from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.

It was the first such discovery since the Gaza war in 2014.

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner accused Hamas of building the tunnel which extended from the southern Gaza Strip several hundred metres into Israel, though no exit was constructed.

“This tunnel is the first one to be found since Operation Protective Edge,” Mr Lerner said, referring to the 2014 war.

“It was built by Hamas in order to infiltrate and execute terror attacks against the people of the southern communities and [military] forces in that area.”

Hamas’ military wing claimed the discovery, which it said was east of the southern Gazan city of Rafah, was “only a drop in the ocean of what the resistance has prepared in order [to] defend our people, the freedom of the holy places and its land and captives”.

Its armed wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, said the Israeli army had not “dared” to publish the full details of the tunnels for fear of scaring Israelis.

Hamas forces have used tunnels in the past to avoid or carry out attacks, store weapons and at times to enter Israel and capture soldiers.

Israel launched its 2014 operation in Gaza, run by the Hamas movement, with the stated objectives of halting rocket fire and destroying attack tunnels into Israel.

It was the third war in Gaza since 2008 and the longest, deadliest and most destructive.

During the war, Israel said that 32 tunnels were discovered, including 14 that extended into Israel, according to a UN report on the conflict.

The war killed 2,251 Palestinians – most of them civilians. More than 10,000 were wounded and 100,000 were left homeless.

On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, of whom 67 were soldiers.

* Agence France-Presse, with additional reporting from Associated Press