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Clashes Erupt After Israeli Solider Is Convicted Of Manslaughter For Executing Wounded Palestinian Assailant

In 2016, the international community was outraged when a video clip recording showed a young Israeli soldier, Sargeant Elor Azaria, executing at point blank range a Palestinian assailant who lay wounded and motionless on the ground, after he stabbed another Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank.

Azaria was an army medic serving in the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron – an overwhelmingly Palestinian town with a small but vociferous group of Jewish settlers living in the heart of the old town – when two Palestinians carried out the stabbing in March of 2016. Hebron has been a longtime flashpoint of violence, and the incident occurred during a wave of Palestinian street attacks on Israelis. One of the two assailants was shot dead by troops. The other was shot and wounded. Eleven minutes later, as the wounded man, Abd Elfatah Ashareef, 21, lay on the ground incapacitated, Azaria shot him in the head with an assault rifle.

Fast forward to Wednesday, when Azaria was convicted of manslaughter in what has proben to be one of the most polarizing cases in Israel’s history. The decision to court-martial Azaria stirred public controversy in Israel from the start, with right-wing politicians calling after the verdict on President Reuven Rivlin to pardon the 20-year-old defendant. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got involved in the contentuous case, saying he supported pardoning Azaria in a post on his Facebook page.

“This is a difficult and painful day – first and foremost for Elor, his family, Israel’s soldiers, many citizens and parents of soldiers, among them me … I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria,” Netanyahu said on his Facebook page. According to Reuters, a poll published on Wednesday night by Israel’s Channel 2 television showed that 67% of respondents favouring a pardon.

At the trial, Azaria contended that he believed the Palestinian, though motionless, still posed a danger because his knife was nearby, and that he might have been carrying explosives. “He deserves to die,” Azaria was quoted in the verdict as telling another soldier after pulling the trigger.

He lied. The video footage of the shooting, taken by a Palestinian human rights activist, showed the knife was not within Ashareef’s reach, and no bomb was found. The scandalous video was distributed to news organizations, ensuring that the incident drew international attention amid allegations by Palestinians and rights groups that Israeli soldiers have been using excessive force against lightly armed assailants.

The three-judge panel rejected Azaria’s argument.

“One cannot use this type of force, even if we’re talking about an enemy’s life,” the court said in its verdict cited by Reuters. “We unanimously convict the accused of manslaughter and of conduct unbecoming (a soldier).”

In delivering her verdict, the president of Jaffa Military Court, Colonel Maya Heller systematically rejected all of Azaria’s defence arguments, saying ‘the fact that the man on the ground was a terrorist does not justify a disproportionate response’.

She said the 20-year-old’s testimony had been ‘evolving and evasive’, and said she saw no reason for the soldier to open fire. She added there was no evidence to support his contradictory claims that the attacker was already dead or that he posed any threat at the time, telling him he ‘couldn’t have both sides of the stick’.

‘We found there was no room to accept his arguments,’ she said. ‘His motive for shooting was that he felt the terrorist deserved to die.’

A relative of the soldier was thrown out of court, while a second stormed out after the verdict.

Azaria, who was smiling as he awaited the verdict with his parents beside him, sat emotionless as the chief judge read out the conviction although his mother screamed “you should be ashamed of yourselves” as the panel left the bench. “Our hero!” relatives of Azaria chanted after the verdict was delivered.

Elor Azaria, who would be convicted of manslaughter by the Israeli military, sits
to hear his verdict in a military court in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 4, 2017. REUTERS

With the 50th anniversary of Israel’s wartime capture of the West Bank approaching, the trial generated debate about whether the military, long seen as a melting pot for Israelis from a multitude of backgrounds, was out of touch with a public that has shifted to the right in its attitudes towards the Palestinians and ways of dealing with continuing violence.

As the verdict was being read at a heavily guarded military court in Tel Aviv, several hundred far-right backers of Azaria – one carrying a Donald Trump banner – clashed with police outside the facility.

Hundreds of demonstrators today blocked a major Tel Aviv intersection close to the military headquarters where the trial was heard, and clashed with police. Journalists covering the demonstration say they were attacked by demonstrators,

Supporters of Elor Azaria clash with police during a protest outside the military
court in Tel Aviv on the verdict day for the soldier, Tel Aviv, Israel.

The reason why Azaria may have been in a good mood during the verdict is that according to surveys he had significant popular support for Azaria. In one poll, nearly half of Israeli Jews said any Palestinian who carries out an attack should be killed on the spot. But despite a campaign by Azaria’s family and rightist politicians that described the conscript, 19 at the time of the incident, as “everyone’s child”, members of Israel’s military establishment argued that the shooting violated rules stating that soldiers can open fire only in life-threatening situations.

Reactions to the court’s decision showed how split the nation was over the case.

“They didn’t give any weight to the evidence,” Sharon Gal, the Azaria family’s media adviser, said after the verdict. “It was like the court was detached from the fact that this was the area of an attack. I felt that the court picked up the knife from the ground and stabbed it in the back of all the soldiers.”

On the other hand, Asa Kasher, co-author of the Israeli military’s Code of Ethics, said the judges were meticulous. “(They found) that it was a most unacceptable action on the part of the soldier. It is legally unacceptable, it is ethically, morally – it’s simply impossible to accept it,” said Kasher, a professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University.

Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Liberman, said he disagreed with the verdict, but called on the public to accept the court’s decision. He said ‘despite the difficult verdict, the defense establishment will do everything it can to assist the soldier and his family’. And he continued: ‘We must keep the army outside every political argument… and keep it in the widest consensus in Israeli society.’

Ultimately, the public response reached all the way to the prime minister Netanyahu who at first backed up his then-defence minister Moshe Yaalon in his criticism of Azaria’s actions. But then Naftali Bennett, a far-right party leader in Netanyahu’s coalition who draws strong backing from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, came out in vocal support of Azaria. Netanyahu then took the unusual step of calling Azaria’s parents to express his sympathy after the soldier was arrested.

Rallies for Azaria, some backed by rightist politicians and pop singers, gathered momentum as the trial progressed. But Tzipi Livni, a centre-left politician and former foreign minister, said after the conviction: “Brave and responsible leaders must stand behind the armed forces and its commanders today and say the verdict must be accepted.

“Only that way can we stop the bleeding within Israeli society since the event occurred and reunite around the military and Israel as a state of laws, whose army is outside political discourse.”

And then there was the family of the slain Palestinian, whose family watched live television coverage of the 2-1/2-hour reading of the verdict.

“To say he is guilty is a good step, not bad, and we hope that the sentencing will be fair,” Ashareef’s father, Yousri, said. In a statement, the self-rule Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry said “the occupation’s chain of command” must also be prosecuted, accusing it of inciting soldiers to kill.

Sentencing will be handed down at a later date. Azaria’s lawyer said they would appeal to a higher military court. The manslaughter charge carries a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment but legal experts expect the sentence to be shorter.

Only Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, has the authority to issue pardons but has said he will wait for the legal process to run its course before making a decision.

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SPA and Nebras sign deal to fight drug menace

Arab News
Thu, 2017-01-05

RIYADH: The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) and the National Committee for Combating Drugs (Nebras) have signed a cooperation agreement to help fight narcotic abuse in the Kingdom.
The deal will strengthen Nebras’ drive to support the government’s efforts in protecting Saudi youth from drug abuse.
Abdullah bin Fahd Al-Hussein, president of the Saudi Press Agency, and Abdulilah bin Mohammed Al-Sharif, secretary-general of Nebras and chairman of the National Commission for Narcotics Control (NCNC), signed the agreement on Wednesday.
The deal facilitates coordination and media partnerships between the SPA and Nebras in promoting social responsibility with the aim of increasing awareness on the harmful impact of drugs on society.
Under the deal, the two institutions will focus on designing and implementing awareness programs to prevent drug abuse.
The SPA president said that the agreement is part of several projects planned by the agency to promote the media’s role in raising the level of community awareness on drug abuse.
“SPA feels a great responsibility toward this cause and is working with all possible tools to eliminate the drug menace,” he said.
The Nebras secretary-general said that the cooperation agreement is one of several preventive measures being taken to eliminate the problem.
Nebras seeks to create a drug-free environment by spreading positive values through various media agencies, he said.

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Saudi courts to send notices vianational address system

Author: SHARIF M. TAHAThu, 2017-01-05ID: 1483569694853087200RIYADH: The Ministry of Justice and Saudi Post Corporation have signed a memorandum of cooperation to improve court services and procedures, and address cases of delay of court notif…

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Diriyah on course to become world-class tourist spot

Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr.
Thu, 2017-01-05

RIYADH: The Riyadh Development Authority (RDA) recently highlighted its program to develop the historic Diriyah into a world-class cultural and tourist area.
Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Rukban, Urban Development Department head, said the program has the support of King Salman in recognition of its national and cultural significance.
Addressing a gathering of heritage specialists and guests at the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center in Riyadh, Al-Rukban said that the historic locations in Diriyah will be transformed into cultural centers under the program.
This will reflect the pioneering role of the city as the capital of the first Saudi state, and the birthplace of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, the Arabian religious reformer.
Diriyah, where the first Saudi state was set up in 1745, has been undergoing huge restoration since 2011.
Al-Rukban said that the ancient and historic neighborhoods of Diriyah will be developed to serve as a nucleus for urban and cultural development.
Sustainable development will also be achieved by preserving natural resources; private investments and contributions to the development program will also be encouraged.
Al-Rukban said that the program’s external operations include landscaping, building rest areas, bathrooms and internal parking areas.
He said that the neighborhood had been provided with an integrated network of public utilities including water outlets, a drainage and sewerage system, rainwater outlets, electricity, lighting, signboards, maps and informative signs.
The program includes the Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab Bridge, which connects the neighborhood of Al-Bujairi and that of Al-Turaif.
Al-Rukban said that the comprehensive plan aims at transforming the Al-Bujairi neighborhood into a cultural and service area in Diriyah.
He said that Al-Bujairi neighborhood has a 3,500 sq. meter central plaza encircled by 25 shops and administrative offices.
The neighborhood also hosts the Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab Cultural Foundation and seeks to become an international hub for researchers in Islamic studies worldwide.

Historic landmark
Al-Rukban said that the Al-Turaif development program had revitalized the neighborhood as a historic landmark and an exhibition of integration and harmony among architectural patterns and natural forms.
He added that Al-Turaif is Diriyah’s most important suburb as it hosts ancient buildings and historical palaces that go back to the first Saudi state.
The Al-Turaif development program includes the Diriyah Museum in Qasr Salwa, which sheds light on the history of the first Saudi state.
Al-Rukban also said that a reception center will be set up at the entrance to the Al-Turaif Quarter to guide visitors and provide them with information about entertainment, tourist utilities, cultural programs and other activities.
Another historic building has also been restored to host the central offices of King Abdul Aziz Foundation and the Riyadh Documentation Center.
The World Heritage Committee has registered the Al-Turaif Quarter as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Houthis ‘pose threat to press freedom’

Arab News
Thu, 2017-01-05

RIYADH: Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Aryani has expressed gratitude to the Saudi government under the leadership of King Salman for the support provided to Yemen’s legitimate government and its media institutions.
He said the Kingdom’s support, which played a major role in restoring normalcy, is highly appreciated by the Yemeni government and its political leadership.
The minister’s remarks came during his visit to the new headquarters of the Gulf Radio and Television Corporation in Riyadh.
He said that cooperation offered by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information helped Yemen’s media institutions and journalists to overcome challenges posed by the militias.
Al-Aryani said Houthi militias have prosecuted, kidnapped and killed journalists, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of media professionals.
The minister also accused the militias of suppressing press freedom.

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API: Energy holds key to necessary US policy reforms

Energy policy improvements will need to be an essential part of US policy reforms voters demanded on Nov. 8 and expect in the next 4 years, American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard maintained.