Palestinian minister dies after confrontation with Israeli soldiers

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calls incident that led to Ziad Abu Ein’s death a ‘barbaric act’

A Palestinian minister has died after clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. The circumstances of Ziad Abu Ein's death have yet to be officially confirmed, but sources told Al Jazeera that it occurred after he inhaled large amounts of tear gas and was struck by security forces. 

Abu Ein, who was head of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission, died in Ramallah Hospital on Wednesday following a protest against the separation barrier near the village of Turmusayya, northeast of Ramallah.

Activists said they were planting olive trees by the illegal settlement of Adei Ad when the soldiers attacked them and fired large amounts of tear gas at the group.

The 55-year-old is thought to have been hit in the chest by Israeli soldiers at the demonstration, according to an Israeli journalist and a Reuters photographer who were at the scene. Other witnesses said he was headbutted and then collapsed.

Pictures of Abu Ein, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, knocked out and on the ground quickly circulated over social media.

The Israeli Defense Forces acknowledged in a statement that its soldiers had "halted the progress" of 200 "rioters into the civilian community of Adei-Ad using riot dispersal means." It said it had assigned an Israeli pathologist to work with a team of Jordanian pathologists to review the circumstances of Abu Ein's death.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon expressed "sorrow" over Abu Ein's death and said the event "is under investigation by the IDF."

"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," Yaalon said in a statement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas quickly condemned the death of Abu Ein, calling it a "barbaric act that cannot be tolerated." He also said "all necessary steps" will be taken after an investigation into Abu Ein's death is carried out.

Senior Palestine security advisor Jibril Rajoub told Al Jazeera that the Palestinian authority decided to suspend all security coordination with Israel following Abu Ein's death, which he called a "premeditated murder."

The European Union called for an immediate, independent investigation into Abu Ein's death. "Reports of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces are extremely worrying," said EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, in a statement. "This is a dramatic reminder for the entire international community of the deteriorating situation on the ground."

Tensions have been running especially high in Israel and the Palestinian territories ever since the Israeli assault on Gaza, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.

A security crackdown by Israel on the occupied territories, continued settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and restrictions on the Al-Aqsa mosque within the city’s holy esplanade — a perpetual flashpoint and sacred site for both Muslims and Jews — has inflamed tensions, resulting in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

In November, two Palestinians attacked worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue, leaving seven dead, including the two assailants, in the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in the city since 2008.

The violence has settled somewhat, but regular protests in the West Bank have continued in recent weeks. The death of a Palestinian minister is likely to further inflame the situation.

After news of Abu Ein's death broke, a Palestinian 14-year-old, Raouf Hussein Snubar, was reportedly shot with a live bullet by Israeli forces and critically injured during clashes that erupted at the Al-Jazaloun refugee camp near Ramallah, according to Ma'an news agency. He has been taken to a nearby hospital, medical sources told the agency.

An Israeli Army spokesman told Ma'an that a "riot of 50 Palestinians erupted in the area" and that soldiers had fired rubber bullets — but no live ones — at the "main instigator."

Abu Ein, a father of four, previously held the position of deputy minister of prisoners’ affairs. He was sentenced to life in prison by Israel in 1982 but was released in a prisoner swap in 1985.

Abu Ein's body will undergo an autopsy on Wednesday or Thursday, sources told Al Jazeera.

Ramallah and El Bireh governorate have announced three days of mourning over the politician's death.

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