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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Israel soldier who killed wounded Palestinian begins prison term

Elor Azaria, 21, was driven to the Tserifin military base near the city of Rishon LeZion by his father, his car festooned with photographs of him and Israeli flags

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria arrives to begin his prison sentence at the Trsifin military base near the city of Rishon Lezion on August 9, 2017. Jack Guez / AFP
Israeli soldier Elor Azaria arrives to begin his prison sentence at the Trsifin military base near the city of Rishon Lezion on August 9, 2017. Jack Guez / AFP

An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an alleged Palestinian attacker who was wounded and lying on the ground began his 18-month prison term on Wednesday, arriving at the incarceration facility alongside motorcycle-riding supporters.

Elor Azaria, 21, was driven to the Tserifin military base near the city of Rishon LeZion by his father, his car festooned with photographs of him and Israeli flags.

A few dozen supporters waved Israeli flags and chanted Azaria's name as the car pulled up. Several supporters on motorcycles rode alongside his car along the route, including some wearing leather jackets with "God Bless Israel" on the back.

A smiling Azaria briefly exited the car outside the base but did not speak. His father spoke briefly, saying, "Thank you to the Israeli people," before driving inside the base's gates.

In an incident caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online, Azaria shot dead Abdul Fatah Al Sharif, 21, in March last year in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

The video showed Al Sharif lying wounded on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after allegedly stabbing and wounding an Israeli soldier.

Some 11 minutes after the alleged initial shooting, Azaria shot Al Sharif in the head without any apparent provocation.

The French-Israeli soldier said he feared Al Sharif was wearing an explosive belt and could blow himself up, a claim judges rejected.

In a message posted on social media last week, Azaria said he was going to prison with his "head held high". It came after an Israeli military court on Monday rejected Azaria's plea for his prison term to be delayed.

That decision came after a military court on June 30 rejected an appeal by Azaria against his conviction for manslaughter and upheld the prison sentence.

Azaria could have appealed to the country's supreme court, but opted not to after Israel's ultranationalist defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, pleaded for him to allow the country to move on.

The soldier has, however, requested a reduced sentence from Israeli military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, asking for community service instead of prison time.

He can also request a pardon from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, with right-wing leaders including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for it to be granted.

Human rights groups pointed to the case as an example of an unequal system of justice for Israelis and Palestinians.

Amnesty International has said Azaria's sentence does "not reflect the gravity of the offence", and the UN human rights office said it was an "unacceptable" punishment for "an apparent extrajudicial killing".