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Israeli Judge Shot Dead Near Tel Aviv

An Israeli judge was found shot dead near Tel Aviv Monday, Justice Minister Joseph Lapid announced in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz named the victim as Adi Azar (search), 49, a judge in Tel Aviv District Court.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), a militant organization nominally linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the assassination, according to Reuters. 

Lapid rejected reports that Azar's murder was terror-related, though police had not ruled out a purely criminal or a "nationalist" motive.  Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995.

The judge was "shot near his home in a car in Ramat Hasharon," a northern Tel Aviv (search) suburb, Reuters quoted Lapid as telling the Knesset..

Haaretz said Azar was shot twice in the chest and once in the head by a motorcycle-borne gunman who escaped.

"I am shocked to the depths of my soul," Lapid was quoted by the newspaper as saying. "This is the first murder of a judge in the history of the country, and this must give us food for thought about where Israel's society is headed."

Israel's Channel Two reported that Azar's life had not previously been threatened.

Haaretz said Azar did not handle criminal cases and that his main responsibility was assigning cases to other judges.

Underworld violence is not uncommon in Israel, with rival gangs often targeting each other.

Several months ago three bystanders died when a gang set off a bomb in Tel Aviv, aiming for a well-known gang leader, who escaped unharmed.

FOXNews' Paul Wagenseil, Erica Chernovsky and the Associated Press contributed to this report.