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Israeli minister urges pardon for soldier who 'executed' Palestinian

Naftali Bennett is criticised for undermining Israel's military court system by calling for a pardon before the soldier's trial is over
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 (AFP)

Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett demanded an amnesty on Sunday for a soldier accused of killing a Palestinian who was lying wounded after stabbing another soldier in the occupied West Bank.

The case has stirred controversy and rocked Israeli politics, with the far right defending the soldier, French-Israeli national Elor Azaria, and the military putting him on trial for manslaughter.

"This soldier should not spend a single day in prison. If he is found guilty, he should immediately be pardoned," Bennett told military radio on Sunday.

"Our soldiers are facing a terrorist wave of Palestinian killers and are defending us. We should show them that we are with them," he said.

Bennett, who is also head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, immediately drew criticism for his comments.

Opposition MP Elazar Stern, a former major general, said he was "very sad" that the education minister was "undermining" the military court system.

While a trial is underway, "a minister should hold back and not make comments for the sake of a few points in the polls," Stern said. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticised in September for calling the soldier's father a few hours after the incident to express his sympathy. He later apologised.

Azaria was filmed shooting Abdul Fatah al-Sharif as he lay on the ground with severe wounds and apparently posing no threat.

Israeli authorities say Sharif and another Palestinian had minutes earlier stabbed and moderately wounded a soldier. The second Palestinian was also shot dead.

Sharif and the other Palestinian, Ramzi al-Qasrawi, both aged 21, attacked Israeli soldiers with knives in the West Bank city of Hebron on 24 March. 

Azaria says he feared Sharif was wearing an explosive belt. 

A video taken by a Palestinian activist working with Israeli human rights group B'Tselem shows Azaria briefly talking with another soldier then taking aim and shooting at Sharif from a few metres away. 

B'Tselem alleged that the Qasrawi had been shot dead while no longer posing a threat.

The court has not yet set a date for its verdict.