Middle East

Israeli soldier goes on trial for killing wounded Palestinian attacker

Sgt Elor Azaria at a military court in Jaffa on 9 May 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sgt Elor Azaria was supported by his mother inside the military court on Monday

The trial of an Israeli soldier charged with manslaughter after killing a wounded Palestinian attacker has opened at a military court in Jaffa.

Sgt Elor Azaria, 19, shot Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the head while the 21-year-old was apparently incapacitated in Hebron, in the West Bank, in March.

The soldier denies violating the Israeli military's rules of engagement without operational justification.

The incident, which was caught on video, has divided opinion in Israel.

Human rights groups say Sgt Azaria carried out an extra-judicial killing, while thousands of people who believe he did nothing wrong attended rallies in support of him last month.

'Truth will out'

Sgt Azaria sat on a bench inside the courtroom as his trial began on Monday morning with the head of the three-judge panel reading out the indictment.

"The truth will come out. The path will be long. We will endure," said Binyamin Malka, a member of the soldier's defence team.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A scene from the video showing Sgt Azaria raising his rifle at the wounded Abdul Fatah al-Sharif

In their indictment, prosecutors said Sgt Azaria "violated the rules of engagement without operational justification as the terrorist was lying on the ground wounded and represented no immediate threat for the accused or others who were present".

Sharif and another Palestinian, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, on 24 March before troops opened fire on them, wounding Sharif and killing Qasrawi.

Footage of the scene several minutes later, filmed by a Palestinian nearby and released by an Israeli human rights group, shows Sharif alive.

A soldier, identified as Sgt Azaria, is then seen cocking his rifle and fatally shooting Sharif from several metres away.

Afterwards, Sgt Azaria told Israeli military police: "When I looked at him I saw that he was moving his head, and his hand was within reach of the knife he used in the stabbing - the black knife. He moved his hand towards the knife."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Supporters of Sgt Azaria protested outside the court building as the trial began

He also said that he had feared that Sharif was wearing an explosive vest.

However, army investigators said that before he opened fire, Sgt Azaria had told a comrade that the wounded man "deserved to die" for stabbing his friend.

And on Sunday night, Israeli Channel 2 television broadcast a new video of the incident that appeared to show the knife mentioned by Sgt Azaria in his police statement was at least 1m (3ft) away from Sharif.

Since October, 29 Israelis have been killed in stabbings, shootings or car-rammings by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.

About 200 Palestinians - mostly attackers, Israel says - have also been killed in that time.

The assailants who have been killed have either been shot dead by their victims or security forces as they carried out attacks. Some attackers have been arrested. Other Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.