A senior Palestinian official died en route to a Ramallah hospital Wednesday after he was struck in the chest by an IDF soldier, Palestinian reports said. The IDF said it was looking into the incident.
Ziad Abu Ein, who headed the PA government agency that fights against the security barrier and settlements, was involved in a scuffle with Israeli troops near Turmusaya, south of the Shiloh settlement in the northern West Bank, during which he inhaled tear gas and was hit by a soldier’s rifle butt, Palestinian witnesses said. An Israeli witness, meanwhile, said that Abu Ein was not hit by a rifle butt.
Abu Ein, 55, collapsed at the site and was evacuated by ambulance, but he died before he reached the hospital.
A top Fatah leader, Jibril Rajoub, told The Times of Israel that the Palestinian Authority would cease all security coordination with Israel in the West Bank in the wake of Abu Ein’s death. There was no immediate announcement of such a decision by Abbas’s office.
Rajoub said the PA had no choice but to respond given that Israel had “crossed a red line.” He said the cessation of security coordination was open-ended. The PA will also now immediately apply for membership in international organizations, Rajoub said, referring to the dozens of United Nations and other forums that the PA has long threatened to seek to join in unilateral moves opposed by Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned “the brutal assault that led to the martyrdom” of Abu Ein, calling it “a barbaric act that cannot be tolerated or accepted,” the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said. “We will take the necessary measures after the results of the investigation into the incident,” Abbas said and announced a three-day mourning period for Abu Ein.
“The Israel government bears full responsibility for the killing of Minster Abu Ein and the systematic crimes committed against the Palestinian people,” said Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian peace negotiator. “This new assassination will have severe consequences.”
Reut Mor, spokeswoman for Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, told The Times of Israel that Palestinian and Israeli activists were involved in a peaceful demonstration just outside Turmusaya, and IDF soldiers escalated the situation by firing tear gas and stun grenades. She said protesters and security forces faced each other in two lines, but she did not witness the scuffle in which Abu Ein was hurt.
Abu Ein, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, was extradited from the US to Israel for a 1979 terrorist bombing that killed two Israeli teens. He was released during a 1985 prisoners swap that saw three IDF soldiers captured in Lebanon set free. He has also served as deputy minister for prisoner affairs.
An Al-Arabiya reporter said that Abu Ein had told him at the start of the clashes that he would “embarrass Israel today.”
Footage from the demonstration showed Abu Ein lying on the ground and clutching his chest before his evacuation from the scene.
Israeli soldiers were in the area in an attempt to calm tensions between settlers and Palestinians. The clashes broke out overnight after settlers accused Palestinian of stealing a horse, while Palestinians alleged that residents of the Adei Ad outpost had damaged cars and olive trees.
Earlier Wednesday, local Palestinian leaders and Yesh Din submitted a request with the Supreme Court for the outpost to be razed.
During the incident, several dozen Palestinians headed to agricultural land near Turmusaya to plant olive tree saplings, said one of the participants, Mahmoud Aloul, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah movement.
As the marchers walked toward the land, soldiers fired tear gas at the Palestinians, Aloul said. He said Abu Ein was hit by a tear gas canister, an account not immediately confirmed by other participants who only said the group was engulfed by tear gas.
Another marcher, Salah Hawajeh, said Abu Ein marched toward the soldiers ahead of everyone else, until he was stopped by a soldier.
He said the soldier head-butted Abu Ein and then hit him in the chest with his rifle butt. Hawajeh said Abu Ein then dropped to the ground.
Channel 10 journalist Roy Sharon, who was standing nearby, disputed that account. In a tweet, he said there was no rifle-butt strike.
Footage released by Sky News Arabia showed Abu Ein in a physical altercation with the border policeman. At one point, the policeman can be seen grabbing the Palestinian official’s neck.
An Israeli army doctor treated Abu Ein before he was evacuated to hospital, AFP reported.
Osama Najar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry, said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death.
Elhanan Miller, AP and AFP contributed to this report.