Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier convicted of killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, was released Tuesday after serving nine months in prison. His release was brought forward by two days as he requested to attend his brother's wedding.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to reporters before departing for Cyprus, said he was "glad it's done with."
Azaria, formerly an army medic, began his sentence for manslaughter on August 2017, following his conviction for shooting and killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron on March 24, 2016. Azaria shot Sharif while the latter was prostrate on the ground, having been shot by Israeli soldiers 11 minutes after he stabbed another soldier. Azaria later claimed he had thought the terrorist also had explosives on his body, an argument the courts rejected.
Azaria was greeted at his home in Ramle, southeast of Tel Aviv, with Israeli flags and signs saying "It's so good to have you home, the soldier of us all," and "Welcome home, Elor the hero."
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he was "very glad" Azaria is finally home. Bennett criticized the way the investigation of Azaria's case was conducted. He said Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon were hasty and rash to condemn Azaria so early without due process, ostensibly contaminating the entire inquiry.
Knesset member Yousef Jabareen of the predominantly Arab Joint List Knesset faction said the expressions of support for the soldier "turn Azaria from being a murderer into a hero and lay the ground for the next murder." Jabareen said it was "outrageous" that Azaria was released after nine months of incarceration. "His release today sends the difficult message that the blood of the Palestinian is up for grabs."
In March, the military parole board cut Azaria's sentence by a third for "good behavior."
Last September, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot reduced Azaria's sentence by four months, saying he "deemed it right to weigh considerations of charity and mercy," in view of the fact that Azaria was a soldier on an "operational scene." The following month, President Reuven Rivlin was labeled a "traitor" in right-wing circles after he refused to pardon Azaria.
Azaria has shown no remorse for his action, which he asserted was the premeditated shooting of a "terrorist murderer." Military prosecutors have deemed this and act undermining the moral strength of the Israeli army. The case was highly divisive in Israel.
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