Palestinian Minister Dies at West Bank Protest

Witnesses say Zaid Abu Ein was hit by Border Police troops; IDF says he died of heart attack, is still investigating the incident.

The Palestinian minister in charge of the Settlements and Annexation Wall portfolio died Wednesday shortly after being hit and shoved by Israeli soldiers during a protest near Ramallah, witnesses and officials in the Palestinian Authority said.

A Palestinian witness at the protest told Haaretz that he saw an officer from the Border Police hit Minister Ziad Abu Ein with the butt of his gun and kick him. Eyewitness reports that Abu Ein died after being hit by policeman have been disputed, including by Israeli journalists present at the scene.

Channel 10 correspondent Roy Sharon tweeted on Wednesday, "If I'm not blind, then there was no rifle-butt strike, certainly not a significant or intentional one. I was standing next to him."

According to reports in Israeli media, the army believes Abu Ein suffered a heart attack, but is continuing to investigate.

The Palestinian Authority has agreed to allow an Israeli pathologist from the Abu Kabir Forensics Institute take part in the autopsy; additional pathologists from Jordan will also be present. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced three days of mourning and halted all contacts and security coordination with Israel. Abu Ein will be buried Thursday, and an autopsy is being conducted.

Abu Ein, a prominent member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, was taking part in the protest held as part of the struggle of Palestinian villages Turmusiya and Al Mugheir against the illegal settlement outpost of Adei Ad, which has taken control of their land and prevented them from cultivating it.

To mark International Human Rights Day, Israeli rights group Yesh Din on Wednesday petitioned the High Court of Justice to evacuate the outpost.

The minister fainted and a Palestinian Authority ambulance evacuated him from the scene, in the village of Turmusiya, to the hospital in the nearby Palestinian city of Ramallah. He died en route. Abu Ein suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, his family said.

The army has launched an investigation into the circumstances of Abu Ein's death. According the IDF, an altercation erupted between Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers and Palestinians. Israeli forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at the protesters.

The United Nations Special Coordinator in the Middle East, Robert Serry, urged Israel to investigate the incident: "I urge the Israeli authorities to conduct a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstance of his death and appeal for calm."

Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ein (L) scuffles with an Israeli border policeman near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 10, 2014. Photo by Reuters

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the death of Abu Ein “another example of Israel’s vicious and arrogant actions committed against the Palestinians.”

"Our brother Ziad was killed while marking the International Human Rights day by planting olive trees to symbolize the hope for both peace and justice," Erekat said in a statement. "This 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.”

He called on the international community to protect the Palestinians from "the crimes of an Israeli government full of settlers and extremists.”

Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein at a protest in the West Bank on December 10, 2014. Photo by Chaim Levinson

Erekat also said that the Israeli government bears full responsibility for the minister's death.

"The Palestinian leadership is currently weighing its response," Erekat said.

MK Jamal Zahalka, chairman of Balad, blamed the army for using dangerous means to dispersion demonstrations and call for the immediate establishment of a committee to investigate Abu Ein's death.

Hamas offered its condolences over Abu Ein's death, according to Middle East Monitor. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, called for "uniting all Palestinian forces to confront violations committee by the Israeli occupation."

Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein at a protest in the West Bank on December 10, 2014. Photo by AFP