Ziad Abu Ein: Palestinian cabinet minister dies after 'clash with Israeli forces'

Senior official reportedly dies during a protest in the West Bank

A senior Palestinian cabinet minister has died after clashes between demonstrators and Israeli troops during a protest in the West Bank.

Mahmoud Aloul, a leading member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, said Ziad Abu Ein died shortly after the incident near the West Bank village of Turmus Aya.

Initial reports are conflicting, but one from the Associated Press quotes a witness who suggests the minister was hit by a tear gas canister. Another report, from AFP, quotes Ahmed Bitawi, director of the Ramallah hospital, saying the minister "was martyred after being beaten in the chest".

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Mourners of Palestinian Cabinet member Ziad Abu Ain carry posters with his picture at the main hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah

Abu Ein, a minister without portfolio in his early 50s, was rushed by ambulance from the scene, but died before reaching hospital in the nearby Palestinian city of Ramallah.

In a statement, Abbas called the death "a barbaric act which we cannot be silent about or accept". Announcing three days of national mourning, he said he would take "necessary steps" after an investigation.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military said it was looking into the incident.

It began as a march involving about 100 foreign and Palestinian activists headed to agricultural land near Turmus Aya to plant olive tree saplings, Aloul said.

The land belongs to Turmus Aya, but is close to an Israeli settlement and mostly off limits to the village's farmers, he added.

Witnesses said a group of around 15 Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at the protesters and began scuffling with them.

According to a Reuters photographer, Abu Ein was struck by a hand to the neck during an altercation with two of the soldiers, and was rushed away in an ambulance shortly afterwards.

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The Cabinet minister was taking part in a movement to plant olive tree saplings on farmland near Ramallah (RT)

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Two protesters, separated from the wider group by a line of Israeli soldiers, put a coat around Abu Ein in the aftermath of the incident (RT)

Footage which aired on the Gulf news channel Hadath and could not be independently verified, appeared to Abu Ein crumpled on the ground pale-faced after the clash, holding his chest.

The Cabinet member headed a Palestinian Authority department dealing with Israeli settlements and the Israeli separation barrier. He had previously served as deputy minister for prisoner affairs.

The Palestinian Authority said it was weighing its response to the death, but the chief Palestinian peace negotiator and senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat described it as an "assassination" that "will have severe consequences".

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An Israeli soldier aims his weapon at protesters as forces try to disperse a demonstration in West Bank

"The Israel government bears full responsibility for the killing of Minster Abu Ain and the systematic crimes committed against the Palestinian people," he said.

Osama Najar, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry, said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death.

Tensions in the West Bank have been fuelled in recent weeks by the killing of 10 Israelis and a foreign visitor. More than 12 Palestinians have been killed over the same period, including many themselves accused of carrying out assaults.

According to Palestinian security sources, shopkeepers in Ramallah have closed their stores in protest at the minister's death, while youths reportedly threw stones at Israeli soldiers guarding a Jewish settlement outside the city.

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