Ruling expected in appeal of Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter

Judges were expected to rule Sunday on an appeal by an Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant, a case that has divided the country.

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria is embraced by his mother Oshra at the start of a hearing in a military court in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2017 at which he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian assailant
Israeli soldier Elor Azaria is embraced by his mother Oshra at the start of a hearing in a military court in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2017 at which he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian assailant (POOL/AFP)

Judges were expected to rule Sunday on an appeal by an Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant, a case that has divided the country.

Elor Azaria, a sergeant and military medic at the time of the incident, was convicted in January and sentenced the next month.

He later appealed the verdict, while military prosecutors have asked for an increased sentence after having initially requested between three and five years.

Azaria arrived at a military court in Tel Aviv on Sunday ahead of the hearing scheduled to begin around 1:00 pm (1000 GMT).

The French-Israeli, who is 21, completed his mandatory three-year military service on July 20 and was moved from confinement to his base to house arrest.

His imprisonment has been postponed pending his appeal.

The March 2016 shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video by a rights group and spread widely online.

It showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army.

Azaria then shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.

He said he feared Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and could blow himself up, a claim judges rejected.

"His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die," Judge Colonel Maya Heller said when reading out the verdict in January.

The trial captivated Israel and highlighted deep divisions in public opinion between those who decry the shooting and those who say he was justified.

Military leaders have sharply condemned Azaria's actions.

Right-wing leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have however called for him to be pardoned in an extraordinary public rift between politicians and the military.

Amnesty International has said Azaria's sentence does "not reflect the gravity of the offence," while the UN human rights office said it was an "unacceptable" punishment for "an apparent extra-judicial killing".