IDF soldier who killed wounded Palestinian attacker appeals sentence amid lawyers’ desertion

IDF soldier who killed wounded Palestinian attacker appeals sentence amid lawyers’ desertion
The legal team representing IDF Sergeant Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an already neutralized Palestinian attacker, filed an appeal with Israel’s military court, despite reportedly being coerced by the prosecution against the move.

Azaria was sentenced by a military court on February 21 to 18 months imprisonment, 12 months’ probation, plus a rank demotion. The soldier has been ordered to begin serving his sentence on March 5, but his defense team on Wednesday appealed his manslaughter conviction and also filed a motion to delay the date he is due to arrive to serve his time.

After the four men defense team compiled an appeal, three of the attorneys representing Azaria resigned. Attorneys Ilan Katz, Eyal Besserglick, and Carmit Shchiver left the team leaving only Yoram Sheftel to represent Azaria in court.

“While we believe that the verdict is incorrect and detached from the evidence, we exhausted our maximum during the trial and believe it will be more beneficial for the soldier to turn to other channels,” the lawyers explained their decision.

After Sheftel filed the appeal with the military court, he and the father of the sergeant, Charlie Azaria, attacked the Military Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek and the prosecution team who had allegedly “blackmailed” the majority of the defense team to quit.

“What led to the dramatic change in the position of the other litigators was a meeting with the head military prosecutor on Sunday, in which we were told ‘if you don’t file an appeal, neither will the IDF,” attorney Sheftel revealed, Ynet news quoted.

“This is an outrageous assertion with a moral aspect—threats and extortion,” the only remaining lawyer said of the tit-for-tat proposal.

“They told me if we appeal, the IDF will appeal. They are trying to scare the family, but my fight will continue because this is the struggle of every parent. I won’t give up,” Azaria Sr. told reporters.

In March 2016, 19-year-old Azaria fatally shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian assailant who had already been incapacitated, in the West Bank city of Hebron.

At the time of the fatal head shooting, which was captured on camera, the Palestinian assailant had already been immobilized and posed no danger to the public or the Israeli soldier, the court found contrary to defense claims which said that Sharif posed an immediate danger.

In January a three-judge panel unanimously ruled that Sgt. Azaria had violated the military’s open fire regulations when he shot Sharif dead. In late February he was sentenced to 18 months on manslaughter charges.

READ MORE: Netanyahu calls for pardon of Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter

Azaria’s case has split Israeli society, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining the chorus of right-wing Israelis calling on Israel’s president to pardon the soldier convicted of manslaughter.

Others in Israel argued that the man should have been prosecuted for murder and face time of up to 20 years in prison. Following the sentencing, the UN human rights office decried the 18-month jail term calling the punishment “unacceptable” and “excessively lenient.”

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Civilian death toll grows amid ISIS attempts to disrupt Mosul siege, UN figures show

The Mosul region has suffered the highest number of civilian casualties among Iraq’s provinces in February, according to new UN estimates, as the US-backed coalition tightens its grip on densely populated western neighborhoods of the ISIS-held city.

A total of 329 civilians were killed and 613 injured across Iraq in February, in “acts of terrorism, violence, and armed conflict,” according to new figures by UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The Iraqi military operation to retake Mosul from Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] and its desperate attempts to hold ground apparently caused a serious surge in civilian casualties.

Ninewa Governorate, with its capital city of Mosul, has suffered the most with 201 civilians killed and another 250 injured. UNAMI, however, has been “hindered in effectively verifying casualties in conflict areas,” thus the conflict’s civilian death toll might be even higher.

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Press Release: UN Casualty Figures for for the month of February 2017 – 

Iraqi civilians suffer both from US-led coalition airstrikes and IS terrorists, who deliberately target fleeing civilians to prevent them from escaping in order to use them as human shields against advancing Iraqi forces.

“We have suffered from many shellings, so many shellings. The shellings were from the morning till the evenings, deadly shellings. We were not able to leave our houses because of them,” a recently displaced Iraqi woman Sakna Younis told RT.

“As the Iraqi security forces stepped up the military operations to liberate the remaining parts of Mosul from Daesh control, the terrorists struck again, targeting civilians with cowardly bombings to ease the pressure on the frontlines,” Jan Kubis, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Iraq said.

Such “sinister attempts” of the terrorists did not “weaken the resolve of the people and government of Iraq” to liberate Mosul, Kubis added. Relentless fighting and further advances into densely populated neighborhoods of western Mosul may result in even more civilian casualties.

“We expect very tough fighting as the Iraqis move deeper into the dense urban terrain of west Mosul,” Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said.

While the Mosul offensive somewhat resembles the operation to liberate Syria’s Aleppo from terrorists, the approach of armies fighting jihadists and media coverage of the battles in the two neighboring countries is strikingly different, former US diplomat Jim Jatras told RT.

“There’s no nice, no neat way for an army to battle its way into a heavily populated area, where there’re hundreds of thousands of civilians. Some of whom might be sympathetic to the terrorists who are holding the city, to Daesh and some who are clearly not, who are oppressed by the rule of Daesh,” Jatras said. “And that is strikingly similar to what we saw a few weeks ago, when the Syrian Army fought its way into East Aleppo, except on a much much more larger scale, with a much more horrendous possible consequences for the civilians there.”

“I noticed one thing that we have not seen … is what we saw in Aleppo, where the attacking forces, in the case of Aleppo Syrian and Russian-backed forces and in the case Iraqi with American backing have left humanitarian corridors for the civilians to escape,” Jatras added.

Civilians who manage to flee the city are forced to walk many kilometers and sleep in the bare desert, they arrive to emergency cites “exhausted and dehydrated,” according to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report.

Even if they manage to reach emergency camps and shelters, not all are guaranteed the much needed help in time, reportedly due to a lack of trained personnel and lengthy screenings by the Iraqi security forces, which are trying to prevent possible IS-members infiltration.

Hajir lost her dad after rocket hit their home in West Mosul. Mom is injured.IDP family in Qayarah takes care of her 

“We have been here [in Al Dargazlia refugee camp] for two days; we came very hungry from there and we are still hungry here. There is no food and my baby is sick. I take her to the camp’s hospital, but they are not able to cure my child,” Younis told RT. “I tell them to transfer me to Shekhan and they did not allow it, I told them my baby is dying and even though they won’t accept this, and till now she is sick. She does not eat anything, they did not supply us with any food to feed my child.”

OCHA promised to improve the desperate humanitarian situation, distributing 30-day food rations among the newly arrived refugees. Approximately 4,000 civilians have been fleeing western Mosul daily since Iraqi forces began the operation to retake the IS-held parts of the city on February 19, UN Secretary-General spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday.

As of February 28, some 16,500 people have been displaced, and only 8,800 of them have so far been distributed among camps and emergency sites, according to OCHA. A further 85,000 people can be housed within prepared emergency camps and shelters, while some 400,000 civilians can flee the battle zone as the offensive continues, according to UN estimates, while roughly 750,000 people remain trapped in war-torn western Mosul.

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‘Where are you going, Europe?’ EU chief Juncker unveils five post-Brexit scenarios

‘Where are you going, Europe?’ EU chief Juncker unveils five post-Brexit scenarios
The chief of the European Commission has presented a white paper outlining possible scenarios for the EU’s post-Brexit future. One option includes reducing the bloc to “nothing but a single market” rather than building up a political union.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, is an ardent advocate of strengthening the EU. Yet, he has acknowledged that the union, even with the UK still a formal member, is facing an identity crisis, which is compounded by problems with the eurozone and migration, as well other challenges.

“It is time we sought answers to a question as old as our union is young: ‘quo vadis Europa?’ [‘where are you going, Europe?’],” he said in presenting his ‘White Paper on the Future of Europe’, which was released ahead of the March summit in Rome.

READ MORE: Germany, France & Italy call for UK to pay multibillion-euro Brexit ‘divorce bill’

The paper admits that that “Europe’s place in the world is shrinking,” while lamenting the shocking results of the British 2016 referendum on EU membership. “However painful or regrettable Brexit may be, it will not stop the EU as it moves to the future; we need to move forward,” Juncker said.

Five options for the EU’s future are outlined in the paper, ranging from a scenario with a stripped down Brussels that reduces the bloc to a single market, to one wherein ‘coalitions of the willing’ within the block will have more autonomy with respect to defense, security, and taxation.

Under the first scenario, called “Carrying On,” the Union would continue business-as-usual, implementing and upgrading its current reform agenda, as outlined under the “Commission’s New Start for Europe from 2014 and of the Bratislava Declaration,” which was agreed upon by all 27 Member States in 2016.

In this scenario, the EU would focus on jobs, economic growth, and investment by strengthening the single market. It also envisions making substantial investments to develop digital, transport, and energy infrastructure.

This scenario also foresees closer cooperation on defense among member states, as well as progress towards developing a common asylum system and the negotiation of “progressive” trade agreements.

The second scenario, dubbed “Nothing but the single market,” on the other hand, sees the EU giving up on addressing issues like migration, security or defense as a bloc. Consequently, Brussels’ regulatory authority would be cut and cooperation on key policy issues would be bilateral rather than EU-based.

“The functioning of the single market becomes the main ‘raison d’être’ of the EU27. Further progress depends on the capacity to agree related policies and standards,” the White Paper states.

The third scenario, “Those who want more do more,” would see some members contributing more to the EU’s development than others.

“In a scenario where the EU27 proceeds as today but where certain Member States want to do more in common, one or several “coalitions of the willing” emerge to work together in specific policy areas. These may cover policies such as defense, internal security, taxation or social matters,” the White paper explains.

“Doing less more efficiently” is the fourth scenario offered to EU members. This vision sees EU27 invest in innovation, trade, security, migration, border management, defense, and counterterrorism. One of its most important aspects would be the creation of a European Defense Union.

Finally, the fifth scenario, “Doing much more together,” sees the single market strengthened through a harmonization of standards, while trade is “exclusively” dealt with at the EU level.

READ MORE: ‘Europe must come to grips with reality & start building bridges’ – France’s ex-PM (RT EXCLUSIVE)

Acknowledging that the EU’s current policies are not working, the 27 member states would “decide to share more power, resources and decision-making across the board.” In this scenario, decision-making in Brussels would be faster, with policies efficiently agreed upon and “rapidly enforced” at the EU level.

This scenario envisions that, by 2025, the “Europe speaks and acts as one in trade and is represented by one seat in most international fora.” A European defense union would be established in cooperation with NATO, with the EU becoming the global leader in trade. The eurozone itself would see much broader cooperation on “fiscal, social and taxation matters.”

“Our darkest day in 2017 will still be far brighter than any spent by our forefathers on the battlefield. As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, it is time for a united Europe of 27 to shape a vision for its future. It’s time for leadership, unity and common resolve,” Juncker concluded.

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