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Israeli soldier held guilty of manslaughter

An Israeli soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground posing no apparent threat was convicted of manslaughter on Wednesday after a trial that deeply divided the country.

The soldier, Elor Azaria, had been on trial in a military court since May, with Right-wing politicians defending him despite top Army brass harshly condemning his actions.

Faces 20 years

Sentencing is expected at a later date. He faces up to 20 years in prison. Judge Colonel Maya Heller spent more than two and a half hours reading out the decision, sharply criticising the arguments of Azaria’s lawyers.

On behalf of the three-judge panel, Ms. Heller said there was no reason for Azaria to open fire since the Palestinian was posing no threat. She called Azaria’s testimony “evolving and evasive”.

Dressed in a green Army uniform, Azaria had entered the courtroom smiling, with family members and supporters applauding him. But he and his family later looked shaken as the judge spoke, with his mother and father huddling together.

Fierce protests

Azaria was 19 at the time of the killing in March 2016 in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank

In a sign of the tensions surrounding the case, dozens of protesters scuffled with police on Wednesday as they gathered outside Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where the verdict was announced.

The shooting set off intense political debate, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having earlier called Azaria’s father to express his sympathy.

Before he became Israeli Defence Minister in May, Avigdor Lieberman was among those showing strong support for Azaria, including attending one of his court appearances.

Mr. Lieberman has since backed away from his earlier stance and, immediately after Wednesday’s verdict, said he disagreed with the decision but that it must be respected. — AFP

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