An Israeli soldier who was filmed fatally shooting a wounded and disarmed Palestinian attacker was comforted by his mother as he appeared before a military court today (9 May 2016) at the opening of his trial for manslaughter. A panel of judges at the Jaffa Military Court read out the indictment against Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Sergeant Elor Azaria in relation to the death of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif.

On 24 March Israeli troops shot Sharif, 21, after he carried out a stabbing attack that wounded a soldier in the West Bank. Sharif's accomplice, Ramzi al-Qasrawi, 20, was killed while Sharif was incapacitated.

A video later emerged showing Azaria, 18, approaching the wounded attacker as he lay motionless on the ground and shooting him in the head at point blank. "The soldier took several steps towards the terrorists, aimed at his head and fired a single bullet from short range," the indictment read, Ynet reported.

"This the defendant did in contravention of the rules of engagement and without operational justification." Azaria's lawyers initially claimed the soldier felt threatened, fearing that Sharif might be wearing a suicide vest. Prosecutors, however, alleged that before opening fire he told a fellow serviceman that the attacker "deserved to die". The case has caused a stir in Israel, dividing public opinion at a time of heightened tensions with Palestinians.

Critics said Sharif's death was an extra-judicial killing while defenders of the soldier argued that Azaria did nothing wrong, acting according to expectations in a combat situation. On 9 May, Azaria was denied release from the open detention regime he is currently held in to celebrate Independence Day on 12 May.

Elor Azaria
Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was caught on video shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head as he lay on the ground, is comforted by his mother during a hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv, Israel Jack Guez/ AFP