The Palestinian Authority will freeze security cooperation with Israel in the wake of the death of a senior Palestinian official after a clash with Israeli troops, a top aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday.
Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator in languishing peace talks with Israel, said the PA would send out an official statement on halting cooperation in the coming hours and added that Ramallah would also push forward with a number of unilateral diplomatic initiatives.
“We see Israel as having complete responsibility for the murder of Ziad Abu Ein,” Erekat said.
Erekat’s announcement confirmed a statement by former PA security head Jibril Rajoub on Wednesday that security cooperation with Israel would be cut off, after senior Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein died en route to a Ramallah hospital.
The PA sent out an official statement Thursday accusing Israel of “killing” Abu Ein after he collapsed during a violent confrontation with Israeli troops in the West Bank.
Palestinian and Jordanian doctors who performed an autopsy on Abu Ein late Wednesday said he died of tear gas inhalation, blunt force and a lack of immediate medical attention.
However, Israeli doctors who also took part in the autopsy disagreed and said he died of a heart attack possibly brought on by stress during the confrontation, and noted he had been grabbed around the neck.
Erekat said the Palestinian leadership had also decided to turn to the United Nations Security Council to request recognition of the state of Palestine, and to apply to the International Criminal Court to put an end to war crimes against Palestinians.
The Palestinian leadership has been weighing both measures for several months, but has come under pressure from Washington and other Western capitals to refrain from unilateral actions that could impede peace efforts.
At an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership Wednesday night, Abbas said all options were on the table in how to respond to Abu Ein’s death. A Palestinian official said after the meeting a final decision would not be made until Friday.
Israel sees security cooperation with the PA in the West Bank as a vital part of its efforts to stymie terror attacks and gain intelligence on the ground.
The cooperation is rooted firmly in the joint interest of thwarting the Hamas terror group.
In 2005, after Abbas took over as president of the PA and renounced violence, Israel and the PA began to cooperate in advancing the shared interest, especially when in 2007 Hamas forcibly seized full control of Gaza.
On the ground, this has translated into far fewer Israeli troops and reduced friction. The IDF gradually removed the roadblocks that once bisected the West Bank and has frequently shared intelligence related to Hamas activity.
On Thursday, the IDF deployed reinforcements to the West Bank, anticipating clashes with Palestinians after Abu Ein’s funeral. The funeral proceeding began Thursday morning in Ramallah.
Thousands of people marched through the Palestinian administrative center, waving flags from Fatah, PLO and the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, Fatah’s armed wing, according to Israeli media reports.
Shots were also fired in the air as mourners chanted for revenge.
“These are the shots that were missing from the intifada, there are the shots that will happen to the Jews,” one person said, according to Israeli news site NRG.
Earlier Thursday, about 50 Palestinian demonstrators hurled stones at security forces near the site where Abu Ein died, near the Palestinian town of Turmusaya.
Hundreds of Palestinian protesters hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at IDF soldiers during two different demonstrations in and near the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday morning.
The death of Abu Ein, a senior official who headed the PA government agency that lobbies against the security barrier and settlements, was met by round condemnation among Palestinians, some of whom called for a return to armed resistance, and international calls for a swift investigation into the cause of his death.
Abu Ein was a former deputy Palestinian Authority minister. In 1981 he was extradited from the US to Israel over a 1979 attacks that killed two Israeli teens. He was released in a 1985 prisoner swap.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday conveyed a personal message to the Palestinian Authority pledging that Israel would investigate the death of Abu Ein, and urging restraint.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also expressed his “sorrow” for Abu Ein’s death, and said the security coordination with the Palestinian Authority would continue.
“The incident during which Ziad Abu Ein died is being investigated by the IDF,” Ya’alon said. “We express sorrow over his death.”
“The security stability is important to both sides and we will continue the security coordination with the PA,” the defense minister said.