Thousands of Israelis gather in central Tel Aviv to call for release of Israeli soldier charged with manslaughter by court following shooting of wounded Palestinian in Israeli-occupied West Bank
Thousands of Israelis rallied in central Tel Aviv square on Tuesday to call on authorities to set free an Israeli soldier who was charged with manslaughter, by a military court, after he shot dead a wounded Palestinian in the Israeli-occupied West Bank last week.
Amateur video footage related to the crime showed the alleged Palestinian knife attacker, Abdel Fattah al Sharif, wounded and lying on the ground in Hebron, in the West Bank, on March 24.
In the video, Sharif is seen to be first ignored by medical staff and Israeli soldiers, after which a soldier, Sergeant Elor Azaria, shot at his head in close range, while he was defenceless.
Israeli soldiers assassinate wounded Palestinian, using ambulance for cover after it refused to medically aid him pic.twitter.com/TBKPdBYsaC— Palestine Video (@PalestineVideo) March 24, 2016
Many of the mainly right-wing protesters in Rabin Square shouted nationalist slogans, as they waved Israeli flags.
His supporters chanted slogans including, "He's a hero," and "Release the soldier."
Crowd chants "Elor the hero" and "death to Arabs." This seems more like a celebration of murder than anything pic.twitter.com/2QHDpIT0LJ— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) April 19, 2016
They criticised the Israeli leader and accused him of branding Azaria for acting incongruously.
"The prime minister, the minister of defence and the chief of staff ... [tried] the young man before we knew all the details... They set the tone, they climbed a tall tree and now they don't know how to get down, so they have to try him and make a symbol of him," said Eli Hubara, a protester.
The soldier was also charged with conduct and stripped of his rank and position in the army.
The Israeli soldier's lawyers have argued that the soldier may have thought the Palestinian was wearing explosives, but he was reportedly already checked for a suicide belt and no one in the video appears to be acting with caution towards him.
The United Nations harshly condemned the "gruesome" killing of the wounded Palestinian teen by the Israeli soldier, after the video of the shooting went viral.
The shooting of Sharif has polarised Israeli society. The country's defence minister, its military chief and other top officials called the incident contrary to the army's values.
Yet an opinion poll, last month, found 57 percent of Israelis think the soldier should have never been arrested.
Almost 60,000 people signed an online petition demanding he be decorated for "heroism." Right-wing politicians have rushed to the soldier's defence. A second video released on March 27, by B'Tselem, showed Azaria shaking hands with Baruch Marzel, a well-known ultra-nationalist settler leader, after the shooting.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been escalating for the past five months, after Israeli troops stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, attacking civilian Muslim worshippers and damaging the mosque.
Since the beginning of October 2015, at least 200 Palestinians and 28 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national have been killed in the violence.
The Palestinian Red Crescent has said in a statement in late February that at least 15,645 Palestinians had been injured by Israeli gunfire, 1,418 of whom were struck by heavy ammunition while another 3,153 have sustained injuries from rubber bullets.