Palestinian official dies in confrontation with Israeli troops
RAMALLAH - Agence France-Presse
An Israeli border guard grabs Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein (L), in charge of the issue of Israeli settlements for the Palestinian Authority, during a demonstration in the village of Turmus Aya near Ramallah, on Dec. 10. AFP PhotoA senior Palestinian official died Wednesday after being struck in a confrontation with Israeli forces during a protest march in the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership vowed to respond to what president Mahmoud Abbas called a "brutal assault" that led to the death of Ziad Abu Ein, who was in charge of the issue of Israeli settlements for the Palestinian Authority.
A former PA deputy minister, Abu Ein, 55, was the most senior Palestinian official to die in a confrontation with Israeli forces in recent years.
His death was "a barbaric act that cannot be tolerated or accepted," Abbas said, declaring three days of mourning.
The confrontation erupted as Abu Ein took part in a march of some 300 Palestinians who intended to plant olive trees as a symbolic act of protest against Israeli settlements, an AFP photographer said.
The group was confronted by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Turmusayya. Tear gas was fired, three soldiers grabbed Abu Ein and he was struck in the chest, the photographer said. Abu Ein fell and an Israeli army doctor rushed to treat him before he was taken to hospital.
Ahmed Bitawi, the director of the Ramallah hospital, told AFP Abu Ein "was martyred after being beaten in the chest".
Abbas said his death would not go unanswered.
"We will take the necessary measures after the results of the investigation into the incident."
The Israeli army, or IDF, said it was "reviewing the circumstances" of the incident and had proposed a joint investigation with the Palestinians.
A statement said Israeli forces had been confronted with "approximately 200 rioters" during the incident.
"Forces halted the progress of the rioters... using riot dispersal means," the statement said. "The IDF is reviewing the circumstances of the participation of Ziad Abu Ein, and his later death."
It said an Israeli pathologist would be joining a delegation of pathologists from Jordan to examine the incident.
The Islamist movement Hamas issued a statement mourning Abu Eid's death and calling on the PA to cease security coordination with Israel.
"The time has come to rally all our forces in facing the criminal Zionist occupation and stop all sorts of security coordination with the occupation," a statement said.
Despite the formation of a Palestinian unity government earlier this year, Hamas is the de facto ruler in the Gaza Strip, while the PA is in the West Bank.
The UN special envoy for the Middle East Peace process, Robert Serry, urged Israel to conduct a "prompt, thorough and transparent investigation" into the death and called for calm.
Shortly before his death, Abu Ein was seen on Palestinian media berating the Israeli army for preventing the march from moving forward.
"This is the occupation army which terrorises the Palestinians. We came to plant trees in our Palestinian land," he said.
"This is the terror of the occupation army, which oppresses our people." Abu Ein had previously been arrested and imprisoned by Israel.
He was extradited from the United States in 1981 over the killing of two Israelis in 1979 and sentenced to life in prison, but released in 1985 in a prisoner exchange.
Beside his role in the PA monitoring Israeli settlements and the separation barrier, Abu Ein was a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and previously served as deputy Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs.
His death comes amid months of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and wave of unrest in the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem.
Israelis are on edge over a series of "lone wolf" attacks by Palestinians, including "hit-and-run" car attacks that killed five and an assault last month that saw two Palestinians burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and kill four rabbis at prayer, as well as a policeman who came to their aid.
The tensions have been heightened by Israeli announcements of new settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank -- the issue that Abu Ein was in charge of dealing with.