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Israeli Police Baffled by First-Ever Judge Assassination - 2004-07-20

Israeli police on Tuesday are examining all possible motives for the assassination of Tel Aviv District Court Judge Adi Azar. Mr. Azar, who was shot at point blank range outside his home, was the first judge in Israel's history to be murdered.

Top Israeli legal and police officials met Tuesday to launch a high level investigation into the killing late Monday of Judge Azar by a lone gunman.

The Justice Minister, Yosef Lapid, says the police are focusing on the possibility that the judge was involved in a personal dispute and this had lead to his killing.

Public Security Minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, who is in charge of the police, also said it appeared increasingly likely that Judge Azar was murdered for personal reasons. He added that even if this proved to be true the murder was still shocking because a professional killer had been hired to target a judge.

At the same time, the police have not yet ruled out the possibility that the murder was the work of Palestinian militants.

Judge Azar presided over a number of cases in which the court ruled Palestinians must pay compensation to the families of Israelis killed by Palestinian armed groups.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the killing. However, this claim has not yet been accepted by the Israeli authorities.

Justice Minister, Mr. Lapid, says that there is no evidence to suggest that the killing is the work of Palestinian militants.

A massive manhunt is underway for the suspected killer, who used a silencer and fired three bullets at the judge, before fleeing the scene.