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Israeli police arrest 120 ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting army draft
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) Oct 19, 2017

Israeli soldier jailed for manslaughter seeks presidential pardon
Jerusalem (AFP) Oct 19, 2017 - An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant has asked the country's president to pardon him, the presidency said Thursday.

"A request for pardon in the case of Elor Azaria was submitted today, Thursday, October 19, to President Reuven Rivlin," Rivlin's office wrote in English.

"The request will be considered by the relevant authorities and, as is customary in the case of pardon requests by soldiers, will be passed to the ministry of defence and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) for consultation," it said.

A number of Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have called for Azaria to be pardoned.

The March 2016 shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online.

It showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army.

Some 11 minutes after the initial shooting, Azaria, a sergeant and military medic at the time of the incident, shot him in the head without any apparent provocation.

He said he had feared Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and could blow himself up -- a claim judges rejected.

On July 30, a military court turned down Azaria's appeal against his conviction for manslaughter and upheld an 18-month prison sentence, which he began serving on August 9.

Last month Israel's military Chief of Staff General Gadi Eisenkot reduced the term by four months.

In a letter to Azaria, Eisenkot wrote that "it must be said from the outset clearly and unequivocally that from the point of view of the chief of staff, your conduct was inappropriate and contrary to army orders and to the army's values."

The army said however that Eisenkot had decided to show compassion on account of Azaria's prior military service record in a combat zone.

Amnesty International has said Azaria's sentence does "not reflect the gravity of the offence".

The UN human rights office said it was an "unacceptable" punishment for "an apparent extra-judicial killing".

Azaria completed his mandatory three-year military service on July 20.

Several thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked a major intersection in central Jerusalem on Thursday to protest against efforts to force them to enlist in the Israeli military like their secular compatriots.

There were simultaneous disturbances in other parts of the city, including the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighbourhood, where police said the protestors had blocked streets and set fire to garbage bins, using them as flaming barricades.

"Police units mobilised in different areas of Jerusalem to respond to illegal demonstrations by right-wing ultra-religious demonstrators," police said in an English-language statement.

They later said they had arrested 120 demonstrators who were "involved in disturbances and blocked roads and major junctions".

A series of such protests in recent weeks has been spurred by occasional arrests of ultra-Orthodox young men accused of dodging military service.

On Thursday, several thousand men and boys wearing traditional black suits and hats took to the streets of Jerusalem and blocked a key intersection.

Some sat in the middle of the street while others danced and sang. One sign said: "To military prison for the 'crime' of Torah study."

"The state wants to silence all the Jews who want to study Torah," said one man, who looked to be in his 40s and gave his name only as Tzvi.

"Lately they have seen the (ultra-Orthodox) population growing, so they want us to serve in the army and be absorbed into the general population."

Police appeared to be acting with restraint after accusations of excessive force at a recent protest.

Small groups of officers occasionally entered the protest to remove those who appeared to be stirring up the crowd, an AFP journalist reported.

Israeli law requires men to serve two years and eight months in the military on reaching the age of 18, while women must serve for two.

Ultra-Orthodox men are exempt from military service if they are engaged in religious study. Those who are not must still enlist with the military and can be arrested if they refuse.

In September, a decision by Israel's supreme court struck down the law exempting them.

However, the court suspended its ruling for one year to allow for preparations for a new arrangement, also giving the government time to pass a new law.

The ruling raises the possibility that the ultra-Orthodox could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with political implications.

Ultra-Orthodox parties are a key part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition and have often acted as kingmakers in Israeli politics.

The ultra-Orthodox are against serving for a variety of reasons. Some do not recognise Israel, believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the Messiah.

Others argue that seminary study is just as important to Israel as military service, or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with salty language and other irreligious behaviour.

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Once the last Islamic State group fighters are ousted from Syria's Raqa, the unconventional forces battling the jihadists say they'll have batteries and masking tape to thank for their victory. The Syrian Democratic Forces on the verge of seizing IS's former bastion Raqa have received sophisticated support from the US-led coalition, including air strikes, weaponry, and intelligence. But ... read more

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