Israeli judge killed
near Tel Aviv

By Aaron Klein

An Israeli judge was found shot dead in a car near his home outside Tel Aviv today, the first judge to be killed in Israel’s history, and a Palestinian terrorist group claimed responsibility for the killing.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid reported the killing in Israel’s Knesset but said it was not known who targeted the judge, identified by the Israeli media as 49-year-old Adi Azar.

Local media said Azar was shot at close range three times in his upper body in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility in a phone call to Reuters in the West Bank.

The caller said Azar was shot for suggesting that the Palestinian Authority be fined for suicide bomb attacks on Israelis, and also in revenge for the slaying of senior Hezbollah guerrilla Ghalib Awali in a Beirut bombing today.

Hezbollah, which backs an almost 4-year-old Palestinian uprising against Israel, blamed Israeli agents for Awali’s death and vowed revenge. Israel declined comment on the bombing.

But Israeli investigators said they had not ruled out a local, criminal motive for the attack.

Israeli officials said in television and radio interviews that Azar’s killing was a serious blow to the judicial system but did not say who might have been responsible.

“All directions including criminal are being investigated. Our entire district is mobilized to find the perpetrators of this barbaric act,” said Tel Aviv police chief Yossi Sedbon.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office released a statement expressing his “deep shock and pain” at Azar’s killing.

Palestinian terrorists killed Israel’s Tourism Minister Rachavam Zeevi in October 2001, and at the time vowed they would target other lawmakers.