World Bulletin/News Desk
A Palestinian minister died shortly after being hit and shoved by Israeli soldiers during a protest on Wednesday in the occupied West Bank, a Reuters photographer who witnessed the incident and a medic said.
Ziad Abu Ein, the official in charge of the settlements file at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who was in his early 50s, was rushed by ambulance from the scene, in the village of Turmusiya, but died en route to the nearby Palestinian city of Ramallah.
Abu Ein was confronted by a border policemen who grasped him by the neck and held him with one hand. Minutes later the minister began to look faint and fell to the ground clasping his chest. He died on his way to hospital.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a statement, called Abu Ein's death "a barbaric act which we cannot be silent about or accept". Announcing three days of national mourning, Abbas said he would take "necessary steps" after an investigation.
"We are sorry about his (Abu Ein's) death," Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement. He said Israel was investigating the incident as well as taking part in the autopsy. "Security stability is important for both sides and we will continue coordinating with the Palestinian Authority."
About 100 foreign and Palestinian activists with the Committee to Resist Settlements and the Wall, the government-run protest organisation that Abu Ein headed, were on their way to plant trees and protest near an Israeli settlement when they were stopped at an improvised checkpoint, witnesses said.
A group of around 15 Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at the protesters and began scuffling with them.
Abu Ein was struck by a hand to the neck during an altercation with two of the soldiers, and was rushed away in an ambulance shortly afterwards, the Reuters photographer said.
Palestinians in Ramallah closed shops in protest at the minister's death and youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers guarding a Jewish settlement outside the city, Palestinian security sources said.
Shortly before his death, Abu Ein spoke to television reporters, sounding hoarse and short of breath.
"This is the terrorism of the occupation, this is a terrorist army, practising its terrorism on the Palestinian people," he told the official Palestine TV. "We came to plant trees on Palestinian land, and they launch into an attack on us from the first moment. Nobody threw a single stone."
An Israeli pathologist will join a team tasked with examining the death.
"The coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and his Palestinian counterpart, Hussein al-Sheikh, have agreed that an Israeli pathologist will join a delegation of pathologists from Jordan [to conduct] a joint examination of the circumstances of Ziad Abu Ein's death," the Israeli army said in a Wednesday statement.
It added: "A proposal has been made to the Palestinians to establish a joint investigation team to review the incident."
Palestinian resistance group Hamas offered its condolences, while UN envoy urges Israel to probe the killing.
"Hamas offers its condolences for the death of Palestinian martyr Ziad Abu Ein, who had been in charge of the Israeli settlements file at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and extends its sympathy to his family," group spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.
Abu Zuhri called for "uniting all Palestinian forces to confront violations committed by the Israeli occupation."
He also called on the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to halt all security coordination with the Israeli authorities.
Meanwhile, UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry has called on the Israeli government to launch an investigation into the death of Ziad Abu Ein.
"The [UN's] special coordinator urges the Israeli authorities to conduct a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstance of his [Abu Ein's] death and appeals for calm," Serry's office said in a Wednesday statement.
"He [Serry] expresses his condolences to Minister Abu Ein's family, the Palestinian people and its leadership," the statement read.
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