A top member of the Fatah leadership said Thursday that the autopsy of a senior Palestinian official showed he died after being struck and inhaling tear gas during a clash with Israeli forces a day earlier.
An official Israeli Health Ministry statement disputed the claim, however, and said Ziad Abu Ein died from a heart attack brought on by stress during the confrontation.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a former Palestinian minister, said Jordanian and Palestinian doctors conducting an autopsy on Abu Ein, 55, determined that he had been physically assaulted by an IDF soldier, and later died as a result, Reuters reported.
Sheikh said Abu Ein died after “being struck, inhaling tear gas and a delay in providing medical attention.”
However, Israeli officials disputed Sheikh’s account, saying the autopsy showed Abu Ein had a pre-existing heart condition and may have died after suffering pressure to his neck during the scuffle with the soldiers.
“[Abu Ein’s] death was caused by blockage of a coronary artery due to hemorrhaging beneath an arteriosclerotic plaque,” a Health Ministry statement read, further explaining that “the bleeding could have been induced by stress.”
The ministry added that the autopsy found light hemorrhaging and localized pressure around Abu Ein’s neck.
The statement went on to explain that Abu Ein “suffered from an ischemic heart disease,” and that “blood vessels in his heart were found to be over 80% blocked by plaque.”
The ministry further stated that old scars in Abu Ein’s body indicated he had suffered from a myocardial infarction in the past, adding that “the poor condition of [Abu Ein’s] heart caused him to be more sensitive to stress.”
There was also evidence of an attempted resuscitation, the ministry said.
“His death was caused by a coronary occlusion, brought on by stress,” another Israel medical source who is familiar with the autopsy results told Reuters on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media. “The stress may have been brought on by him being grabbed by the neck.”
However, the ministry stated that only after receiving Abu Ein’s full medical report would it be able to reach a more comprehensive conclusion regarding his death.
Abu Ein, a senior official who headed the PA government agency that lobbies against the security barrier and settlements, died en route to a Ramallah hospital after collapsing during a clash with Israeli troops in the northern West Bank. Palestinian witnesses said he was struck by the butt of a rifle, though an Israeli reporter at the scene disputed that account.
The death was met by round condemnation in Ramallah, with the PA saying it may cut off security cooperation with Israel, and international calls for a swift investigation into the cause of his death.
The IDF bolstered security measures across the West Bank on Wednesday evening amid fears that tensions could escalate further in the wake of Abu Ein’s funeral, which is scheduled to take place Thursday afternoon in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
On Thursday morning, hundreds of Palestinian protesters hurled stones at IDF soldiers during two different demonstrations in and near the West Bank city of Hebron.
The IDF responded with riot dispersal means in both cases, and two Palestinians were arrested, the Walla news site reported.
Burning tires thrown at Israeli troops in the city as well, according to Ynet, but no injuries were reported on either side.
Abu Ein died after taking part in a protest near Turmusaya, south of the Shiloh settlement in the northern West Bank.
Footage from the demonstration showed Abu Ein lying on the ground and clutching his chest before his evacuation from the scene.
Pictures from the event also showed an Israeli soldier grabbing Abu Ein’s neck.
Israeli officials vowed to conduct an investigation into the incident amid international calls for a probe.
An Israeli army doctor treated Abu Ein before he was evacuated to hospital, AFP reported.
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.
Earlier Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to respond to what he called the “brutal assault” on Abu Ein and summoned an emergency session of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, amid speculation he could suspend longstanding security cooperation between the PA and Israel.
“All options are open for discussion and implementation,” he said.
Following the emergency session, top Fatah leader Jibril Rajoub said the Palestinian Authority decided to suspended all security cooperation with Israel effective immediately, according to Israel Radio.
However, Palestinian official Wasel Abu Yussef said the issue of cooperation was discussed at the session, but a decision on the matter was deferred until Friday.
“We discussed the immediate halt of security cooperation and a review of agreements made with the Israelis, particularly the accords on security,” he said.
AP contributed to this report.