Palestinian shock over murder of Israeli liberal: Young lawyer hacked to death while helping Gazans to set up aid projects

'HE WAS everything you could want a young Zionist to be. He was ardent, tall, attractive, strong and fit. He was an expert at karate and wonderfully gifted with his hands,' said one of Ian Feinberg's colleagues yesterday, as Israeli soldiers continued the hunt for the killers who on Sunday hacked Feinberg, 32, to death in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, said Feinberg's friends, he was killed while trying to help Palestinians. He was carrying out Israeli government policy: trying to set up new projects, aided by the European Community, to boost the Gaza economy. 'He of all people should have been protected,' said his colleagues.

The killers, the Red Eagles, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), also spoke of Zionism. In a leaflet they claimed responsibility for the death of the 'Zionist lawyer'.

The attack came two days after the wife and daughter of a leading PFLP activist, Samir Suwaden, were killed in an Israeli helicopter attack north of Israel's self-declared security zone in south Lebanon. Mr Suwaden was wounded.

The Red Eagles' statement did not say the Gaza killing was in retaliation. But it did not matter to them that the Zionist they targeted was trying to help Palestinians. Their leaflet read: 'We are sure that every Zionist who touches the soil of the West Bank and Gaza is considered an aggressor and he will be a target of our weapons.'

It is this statement which has marked out Feinberg's death from other recent attacks on Jews in the occupied territories and which has instilled a new level of fear among Israelis. Many recent killings of Israelis by Palestinians could at least be said to have been been motivated by some grievance against the individual. Those attacked have often been Jewish settlers, who the Palestinians say have no right to be living on their land. Or the victims have been Israeli soldiers or security service officers who are daily held responsible for killing and maiming Palestinians.

Not even Palestinian extremists found it easy yesterday to describe Feinberg as a 'valid target'. He was a liberal Israeli lawyer who lived in Israel proper, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. He was not a foolhardy passerby who had strayed on to dangerous land, provoking a spontaneous reaction, but a frequent visitor to the Gaza Strip. He had contacts with the local Palestinian community leaders, who respected him. The killers must have known all this, for they picked him out with care.

When he was attacked, Feinberg was in a meeting with Palestinians, in the Gaza offices of Co-operation for Development, a European-funded aid project which makes loans to businessmen. The building is between two Israeli military posts, near a United Nations social club, and in a relatively prosperous part of Gaza City, next door to the home of a member of the peace delegation, Freih Abu Meidin.

The killers, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, knives and a hatchet, burst into the meeting at about 4.30pm. They ordered everyone except Feinberg to lie on the floor. Some of those present said they pleaded with the gunmen not to attack him. But the attackers stabbed Feinberg in the throat many times and hacked his head with a hatchet.

Since the recent Israeli government decision to close off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, tension has been high in Gaza, curfews have been in force, and soldiers have been making mass arrests. Economic hardship has worsened. Israel has made new efforts to pump-prime the Palestinian economy to produce a degree of self-sufficiency so that severance can be maintained.

Yesterday, Issam Shawa, Palestinian head of a US aid agency in Gaza, said the murder was particularly shocking because the victim was 'clearly trying to help Gazans and their economy'. The Red Eagles' statement concluded, however: 'The Zionist government led by the terrorist Rabin is responsible for all the killing of innocents and for the starvation, death and deportation.'

Israel's Peace Now movement, which advocates military withdrawal from the occupied territories, yesterday voiced support for the indefinite closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a 'realistic solution', AFP reports. 'Mixing the Israeli and Palestinian people is being paid with blood,' a spokesman said in reference to the killings of 15 Israelis and 26 Palestinians last month.

On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet rubber-stamped the indefinite ban on Palestinians travelling into Israel and east Jerusalem from the occupied territories, officials said. Gaza was sealed off on 28 March and the West Bank two days later. Peace Now said Israel should take a 'brave peace initiative' to kickstart the stalled Arab-Israeli peace talks, and urged a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Also yesterday, Israeli soldiers stopped a five-truck convoy from entering the Gaza Strip and confiscated food, clothing and blankets meant for Palestinians, Reuter reports. Army authorities described the aid effort by the left-wing Hadash party and Arab Israelis as 'a political act'. 'No one is going hungry in Gaza, there is abundant food, and the members of parliament know this,' a spokesman said.