TEL AVIV • An Israeli soldier who shot dead a wounded and immobilised Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground, posing no apparent threat, was convicted of manslaughter yesterday after a trial that deeply divided the country.
The soldier, Elor Azaria, had been on trial for manslaughter in a military court since May, with right-wing politicians defending him despite top army brass harshly condemning the killing.
Sentencing is expected at a later date. He faces up to 20 years' jail.
The case burst into public view when a video of the March 24 shooting emerged and spread widely online. The video showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying on the ground, shot along with another man after stabbing and moderately wounding a soldier minutes earlier, according to the army.
Azaria, who was 19 at the time, then shoots him again, in the head, without any apparent provocation.
His lawyers have argued 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.
Colonel Maya Heller, a judge, spent more than 21/2 hours reading out the decision, sharply criticising the arguments of Azaria's lawyers.
On behalf of the three-judge panel, Col 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".
The case has pitted those who saw Azaria's actions as proof of growing extremism in Israeli society against those who said he acted in self-defence or was right to kill someone who had just attacked Israelis.
Palestinians, however, felt the shooting symbolised what they say is the military's excessive use of force against them.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE