UN rights office slams Israeli soldier's 'lenient' sentence

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GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights office said Friday it's "deeply disturbed" by the "lenient" 18-month prison sentence handed down by a Tel Aviv military court against an Israeli soldier who killed a badly wounded Palestinian assailant as he lay on the ground after he had stabbed another soldier.

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani of the rights office decried on Friday a "chronic culture of impunity" in Israel when it comes to soldiers involved in the conflict with Palestinians.

Sgt. Elor Azaria was sentenced Tuesday for manslaughter in the March shooting of Adbelfattah al-Sharif, who was wounded after he stabbed a soldier in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron.

Israeli officials strongly rejected her remarks. "It has been proven again that with the distorted ethical compass of the human rights council one bullet that Azaria fired at a terrorist is worse than millions of bullets that murder innocent people in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Facebook.

The sentencing culminated a nearly yearlong saga that has bitterly divided Israel where military service is compulsory and support for young soldiers is widespread. While Israel's top generals pushed for the prosecution of a soldier they say violated the military's code of ethics, large segments of the public, including politicians on Israel's nationalist right, sided with the Azaria.

Since September 2015, Israeli forces have killed 235 Palestinians and Israel says most of them were killed as they carried out attacks, while others died in clashes with Israeli forces.

During the same period, Palestinians have carried out numerous attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, mainly stabbings but also shootings and assaults using cars, killing 41 Israelis and two visiting Americans.

Israel says the bloodshed is fueled by a Palestinian campaign of incitement, compounded by social media sites glorifying attackers and encouraging violence. Palestinians say it stems from frustration over decades of Israeli rule in territory they claim for a state.

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