Palestinian minister dies during clashes with Israeli troops

Some say Ziad Abu Ain, a Palestinian minister in charge of settlements, died by the butt of a soldier’s gun. Others claim he was headbutted.

An Israeli border guard grabs Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein, left, during a demonstration in the village of  Turmus Aya near Ramallah, on December 10, 2014. Abbas Momani / AFP Photo
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RAMALLAH // A Palestinian minister and senior Fatah official died yesterday, reportedly after being struck by an Israeli soldier and inhaling tear gas during clashes in a village near Ramallah.

Ziad Abu Ein, 55, who was in charge of the Palestinian Authority's policy on Israeli settlements and the separation wall, died in Ramallah Hospital.

Witnesses including members of the media said Abu Ein collapsed after he was struck – some said with the butt of a soldier’s gun, others that he was headbutted. Photos of the confrontation show Abu Ein being grabbed by the throat.

The minister, along with several Palestinian and international activists, including members of Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, were marking International Human Rights Day at Turmus Aya, a village of predominantly Palestinian Americans north-east of Ramallah.

The group, which was planting olive trees in the area close to the settlement of Adei Ad, was met by Israeli forces who fired teargas and stun grenades at them.

Abu Ein could still speak when he was carried by several Palestinian men into an ambulance.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas slammed Abu Ein’s death as a “barbaric act which cannot be tolerated or accepted”.

He vowed all “necessary measures” would be taken following an investigation into the incident.

Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon said Abu Ein’s death is being investigated.

“We express sorrow over his death. We have proposed a joint investigation to the Palestinian Authority and that a joint autopsy be carried out on Abu Ein’s body. Security stability is important to both sides and we will continue coordination with the PA,” Mr Yaalon said in a press statement.

A post mortem will be conducted to determine the exact nature of Abu Ein’s death, said the head of the Palestinian civil affairs committee, Hussein Al Sheikh. The death comes following months of tensions running high in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Mr Abbas announced three days of mourning, with flags to be flown at half-mast. A general commercial strike was also called by Fatah, and some shops in Ramallah could be seen closing their doors.

A 14-year-old boy was reported to be in serious condition after being shot in the head by Israeli forces during a protest over Abu Ein’s death at the Jelazoun refugee camp near Ramallah.

Abu Ein, a former political prisoner, previously held the position of deputy minister of prisoners’ affairs.

The father of four took part in non-violent resistance efforts across the West Bank earlier this year. In October, he criticised Israeli plans to move Palestinian bedouin in the territories to townships as “tantamount to ethnic cleansing”.

“The Israelis are trying to remove the Palestinian bedouin populations spread over 46 locations from south of Ezariyyeh [Bethany] to the Green Line, and place them in three to four congregations in Al Nuweimeh area in Jericho,” he had said.

"The purpose is to confiscate thousands of dunums of land and to cut the West Bank's northern areas from its southern ones, so a Palestinian state would be unviable."

Following Abu Ein’s death, the former head of security in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, said the PA had decided to suspend all security coordination with Israel. This was not yet confirmed by the president’s office.

A meeting for the broader Palestinian leadership, including the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee and other factions, was held at 7pm local time (9pm UAE time).

The PA’s prime minister Rami Hamdallah meanwhile called for an international investigation into Abu Ein’s death.

The United Nations and European Union also called for an inquiry into Abu Ein’s death.

“Reports of excessive use of force by Israeli Security Forces are extremely worrying: I call for an immediate, independent investigation”, the EU’s top diplomat, Frederica Mogherini, said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the United Nations to provide Palestinians with international protection. He said the incident was “a clear example of how the culture of impunity granted to Israel by the international community permits it to continue in committing crimes against the Palestinian people”.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse