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Former Israeli soldier Elor Azaria (C), who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant, waits to hear the ruling at an Israeli military appeals court in Tel Aviv, Israel July 30, 2017. .(Photo by: REUTERS)
Liberman requests pardon for Hebron shooter
President Reuven Rivlin's office said he will only discuss the matter with experts upon his return from a state trip to Spain.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sent a letter to President Reuven Rivlin today asking for the pardon of Elor Azaria. Azaria, a former IDF combat medic, was jailed for killing an incapacitated terrorist near Hebron.

"Elor and his family paid a heavy personal and familial price in the contest connected to Elor's sentence and the unprecedented and drawn-out public investigation," Liberman wrote.

Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter by a military court in January for killing Palestinian attacker Abdel Fatah al-Sharif in Hebron on March 24, 2016. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, 12 months’ suspended sentence after serving that term and was demoted to the rank of private in February.

Videos of the incident show Azaria shooting the incapacitated terrorist lying on the ground. Azaria claimed his shots were in self-defense, fearing a possible knife attack or concealed explosive.

Immediately after the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement that “the IDF expects its soldiers to behave with composure and in accordance with the rules of engagement,” adding that the incident in Hebron did not “represent the values of the IDF.”

Two days later, Netanyahu wrote a Facebook post on the matter, saying, “The IDF is a moral army that does not execute people. IDF soldiers have absorbed with their bodies the terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens and deserve support.”

In July, Netanyahu called for Azaria to be pardoned, tweeting that his opinion about the subject had not changed since the initial sentencing in January.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot shortened Azaria's sentence by four months in September after signaling that he would not fully pardon Azaria when he declined to issue a pardon the first time he could have intervened.

Two weeks ago, Liberman called for Azaria's immediate release, claiming that the affair was damaging to the IDF, and that, "We should leave it behind us as soon as possible."

In Liberman's letter to Rivlin on Sunday, he wrote of the extraordinary burdens asked of IDF soldiers and pleaded for healing in the divisive nature of the trial.

"I believe that in this unique case, public interest should also be considered — the need to heal the rifts in society and the impact of the event and its trial on the citizens of the country and the soldiers of the IDF in the face of the enemy. We send our daughters and sons to defend, as soldiers, the security of the country and public safety, putting them in complex situations that are incomparable [to] anywhere else in the world," he wrote.

"And we demand of them — and continue to demand — that they will serve with courage, determination, professionalism and morality. I believe that the pardon of Elor Azaria will not detract from these demands and will balance the importance of rule of law with the relevant public and private considerations."

Liberman said in his letter that the time had come to "put an end to the affair that shook Israeli society and to act at this time with kindness and mercy to the soldier and grant the request for the pardon of Elor Azaria."

The president's office confirmed they received the pardon request, but delayed any decision until after the conclusion of Rivlin's four-day state visit to Spain.

"The president received relevant opinions to continue the examination of the pardon request of Elor Azaria. He will examine the opinions submitted to him, along with all the materials on file, upon his return from abroad, when he will discuss matters with the professionals as per standard practices," his office confirmed.

Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed reporting.

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