11 Dec 2014

Palestinian minister dies during protest

12:57 pm on 11 December 2014

A Palestinian government minister has died after a confrontation with Israeli troops at a protest in the occupied West Bank.

An Israeli border guard grabs Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein (L) during a demonstration in the village of Turmus Aya near Ramallah, on 10 December 2014.

An Israeli border guard grabs Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein (L) during the demonstration in the village of Turmus Aya. Photo: AFP

Palestinian medics told the BBC that Ziad Abu Ein died from complications related to tear gas exposure - but several witnesses said the minister had been hit and shoved by soldiers. One said Mr Abu Ein had been hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister fired by soldiers.

The minister's fellow protesters said they were holding a peaceful march to plant olive trees on land near an Israeli settlement.

In a statement, Israel's Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon expressed regret for the minister's death.

The Israeli military (IDF) said it was investigating the incident. Israeli and Jordanian experts would attend a post-mortem examination, the IDF said. It has also proposed setting up a joint team with the Palestinians to investigate Mr Abu Ein's death.

There have been reports Mr Abu Ein had a health condition that may have contributed to his death.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an investigation into the death and urged "all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalation".

Following the incident dozens of Palestinians reportedly gathered at the scene, near the village of Turmusaya, setting fire to tyres and throwing stones at security forces.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) meeting in Ramallah following news of the death of the minister, whom he called a "martyr".

'We took him directly to the ambulance'

Mr Abu Ein, a minister without a portfolio, was among dozens of foreign and Palestinian activists taking part in a protest against land confiscations.

They had planned to plant olive tree saplings on a patch of land near the Jewish settlement of Shiloh, which Palestinians believe has been earmarked for annexation by Israel.

In the course of the protest, they came into confrontation with a group of about 15 Israeli soldiers.

One of the activists, Abdallah Abrammah, said he saw the minister being hit by an Israeli soldier.

"One of the soldiers coming to the minister beat him by helmet to the head and that time we have tear gas smoke. He fall down and he start to stop his breath," he said.

"We took him directly to the ambulance and to the hospital but he's died."

The BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem said Palestinians were likely to see the exact cause of death as a secondary issue and it would serve to sharpen tensions.

Condemning the "brutal assault" on Mr Abu Ein, Mr Abbas promised to take unspecified measures and declared three days of mourning.

Mr Abu Ein once received the death sentence, commuted to life imprisonment, from a court in Israel for a 1979 bombing that killed two Israeli teenagers.

He was released in 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange that saw the release of three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon.

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