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Israeli Soldier Gets One-Month Sentence Over Death of Gaza Teenager

JERUSALEM — An Israeli soldier who shot and killed a plainly unarmed Palestinian boy during mass protests along the Gaza border fence last year has been sentenced to a month in military prison and demoted.

It was the first conviction of a soldier to result from a handful of criminal investigations that were opened after hundreds of Palestinians were killed during the protests, which began in March 2018 and continue, albeit in reduced form.

The boy who was killed, Othman Helles, 14, was gunned down on July 13, 2018, just as he began to climb the border fence directly opposite an Israeli sniper position. The scene was captured on video and was the subject of a BBC News Arabic documentary.

The Israeli soldier, who was not identified, agreed on Monday to a plea bargain in which he was convicted of “disobeying an order leading to a threat to life or health.”

The army said he had fired on the boy without receiving permission from commanders, failed to follow the rules of engagement and did not act in accordance with earlier instructions.

On the day Othman was shot, the Israeli military said its soldiers had “identified an attempt to breach the security fence and infiltrate into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip and fired to stop the attempt.”

The soldier who pleaded guilty, an infantryman in the Givati Brigade, was demoted to private in addition to receiving the one-month sentence.

Othman’s father, Rami Helles, said he was deeply disappointed by the sentence.

“I was hoping for financial compensation and jailing him for longer period,” he said. “This is unjust.”

He also said he feared that the soldier’s punishment would “encourage his colleagues to kill in cold blood” rather than working as a deterrent.

The investigation into Othman’s death was announced on Aug. 21, 2018, by the military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek, along with a second inquiry into the killing of a young man shot in the back while he was running with a tire during the first day of the protests.

Starting on March 30, 2018, tens of thousands of Palestinians went to the border fence on Fridays to press for an end to Israel’s draconian blockade of Gaza and for the right to return to ancestral lands in what is now Israel. Hundreds of protesters were killed, and thousands more suffered devastating gunshot wounds.

According to The Times of Israel, the soldier who pleaded guilty was not convicted of a more serious offense, like manslaughter, because military prosecutors were unable to connect enough evidence tying his gunshot to the boy’s death.

Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City.

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