U.S. Urges 'Swift' Probe Into PA Minister's Death

U.S. joins EU, UN in calling for an 'independent' investigation into death of Ziad Abu Ein at West Bank protest; Netanyahu tells PA Israel will probe the incident.

Barak Ravid
Gili Cohen
Amira Hass
Chaim Levinson
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds a picture of an Israeli soldier pushing Palestinian Cabinet minister Ziad Abu Ein, Ramallah, Dec. 10, 2014.Credit: AP
Barak Ravid
Gili Cohen
Amira Hass
Chaim Levinson

The U.S. called on Israel Wednesday to conduct a "swift and transparent investigation" into the death of Palestinian Authority minister Ziad Abu Ein earlier in the day at a West Bank protest.

The statement by the State Department spokesperson follows similar calls by the EU and UN for an Israeli probe into the incident.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that "reports of excessive use of force by Israeli Security Forces are extremely worrying," and urged Israel to carry out "an immediate, independent investigation."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu relayed a message to the PA through his personal envoy Isaac Molho, saying Israel will investigate the incident. The prime minister stressed the need to calm the situation on the ground and act responsibly.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called on Wednesday on Israel "to conduct a swift and transparent investigation of the Palestinian minister's death." Ban called on "both sides to avoid escalation."

The United Nations Special Coordinator in the Middle East, Robert Serry, also 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 (C) falls during a protest near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 10, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Meanwhile, the IDF was preparing for clashes across the West Bank following the death of the minister. Clashes were reported near the Qalandiya checkpoint and in the West Bank refugee camp Jilazun, where a 14-year-old boy sustained serious wounds after being shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet.

Witnesses and officials said Abu Ein, 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. These reports have been disputed, including by Israeli journalists present at the scene, and according to some reports in Israeli media, the army believes Abu Ein suffered a heart attack.
The Palestinian Authority has agreed to allow an Israeli pathologist from the Abu Kabir Forensics Institute take part in the autopsy.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, agreed on the participation of the Israeli pathologist with his Palestinian counterpart Huseein al-Sheikh. According to the IDF, Mordechai also offered al-Sheikh to set up a joint team to investigate the incident.

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe said in an official statement that "The incident in which Ziad Abu Ein dies is being investigated by the IDF. We regret his death. We have offered the Palestinian Authority a joint investigation, and there will be a joint autopsy of Abu Ein's body." The statement added that the stability of the security situation "is important for both sides, and we will continue to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority."

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.

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

The IDF said the clash was over a disagreement about the place where to plant  trees, as had been planned in advance. A representative of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories identified the Palestinian minister and briefed the military force at the site, an officer said.

"The direct circumstances [that led to striking Abu Ein] are not clear, although the incident is being investigated," the officer said. "When a figure is recognized, the force is briefed and told to keep away. Apparently this is what happened here too. But your very presence on the front line incites the flames, even if you were recognized," he said.

The officer said the troops used stun and gas grenades. Commenting on footage showing a Border Patrol officer strangling and shoving Abu Ein, he said he saw a shove, not strangulation, but the army was still looking into it. It was also looking into the eye witness report that the minister was hit with a rifle butt, he said.

The army intends to interrogate all the soldiers who were involved in the incident and COGAT has asked the hospital the minister had been taken to for the relevant documents, he said.

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.

Palestinian Cabinet member Ziad Abu Ein, left, takes part in a protest against Israeli settlements in the village of Turmus Aya near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Credit: AP

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