Netanyahu Calls on President to Reconsider Pardoning Hebron Shooter

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Elor Azaria, Israeli soldier jailed for shooting and killing a subdued Palestinian terrorist.
Elor Azaria, Israeli soldier jailed for shooting and killing a subdued Palestinian terrorist. Credit: Jonathan Lis, Chaim Levinson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, joined by dozens of lawmakers, signed Monday a petition calling on President Reuven Rivlin to reconsider his rejection of Elor Azaria's appeal for clemency.

The premier took to Facebook to express his opposition to Rivlin's decision, saying in a post on his official page: "My stance has not changed: Pardon for Elor Azaria."

Azaria is an Israeli soldier who is currently serving a 14-month sentence for killing a subdued Palestinian terrorist last year.  Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was lying on the ground when Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter, shot and killed him in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Netanyahu has called for Azaria to be pardoned in the past, with his last statement issued after the military court rejected Azaria's appeal. "When the subject will be raised for discussion again I will pass my recommendation for a pardon to the relevant elements," Netanyahu wrote at the time.

In a response issued Monday evening, the President's Office reacted to reports of a petition calling for Azaria's release. "The aforementioned letter has not been received by the President's Office and when it does it will be answered as procedure dictates. The President's Office would like to note that pardon requests are accepted only from the person himself [facing imprisonment], his representatives or immediate family members."

The statements added that "according to policy regarding the treatment of pardon requests over the years, a renewed request for pardon can only be filed within six months from the day the president has given his decision on the former request, unless the circumstances of the request undergo a significant change."

Rivlin announced his refusal a little over a week ago, and a statement from the President's Office explained that upon refusing Azaria's appeal to be pardoned Rivlin had taken into account all the contents of Azaria's request as well as "all of the material and professional opinions that had been presented to him."

The president's statement also made note of the fact that military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot reduced Azaria's original sentence by four months, and that Rivlin believed that any further reduction of Azaria's time behind bars would "harm the strength of the Israel Defense Forces and of the State of Israel," also saying that the IDF's values, including "purity of arms," are essential to maintain the military's strength.

Azaria is currently slated to face a committee that could consider his early release. He started serving his jail term on August 9.

One of the most vocal opponents of Rivlin's refusal to grant Azaria pardon is Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who spoke out against the president's decision immediately after it was announced.

Lieberman said that while he admires and respects Rivlin, he regrets his decision.

"Under these unique circumstances, there was a basis for also considering the public interest, the need to heal divisions in society and the impact of the event and the trial on soldiers and young people about to be drafted," Lieberman commented, adding that "we must not forget that this [case] involves an outstanding soldier and a terrorist who came to kill."

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