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Palestinian minister Zaid Abu Ein died this morning after a confrontation with the Israeli army in the West Bank village of Turmusaya outside of Ramallah. Abu Ein, the Palestinian government’s deputy minister for prisoner affairs, was participating in a symbolic walk and olive tree planting ceremony in commemoration of International Human Rights Day, in coordination with Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization.
According to a witness, Abu Ein’s death occurred after the march to Turmusaya’s agricultural land was underway. As the Israeli and Palestinian observers of the rights day holiday walked into the orchards, about 50 soldiers some 300 meters away began firing tear gas and sound grenades, said Yesh Din’s spokesperson Reut Mor, who saw Abu Ein collapse.
“No stone was thrown, no violence at all and before we even reached them [the Israeli army] they started shooting gas and stun grenades,” said Mor, explaining the event was not a protest, but work-day as Yesh Din had submitted a petition for Israel’s high court to return a portion of the Palestinian village’s land confiscated for the nearby illegal outpost of Adei Ad. They intended to farm land some 300 meters from the outpost. “The head of the municipality thought because it’s International human rights day though that it would be very appropriate to do a press conference and a quiet walk,” continued Mor.
After initial round of dispersants were fired by the army, soldiers approached Abu Ein and a group of Palestinians. At that point a soldier struck Abu Ein in the chest with the back end of his weapon, according to statements Yesh Din collected, Mor related. She did not see Abu Ein until he was lying on the ground. “What I saw is him collapsing.”
“He was going in and out of consciousness,” said Mor adding, “I gave him water.”
“Everyone, more than our team is in a complete state of shock. You know it was a march for international human rights day to plant olives. Nobody dreamed this day would have this kind of ending,” said Mor, adding “we shook his hand before the march he said he was very happy to meet Yesh Din [the Israeli organization].”
Yesh Din has also filed a petition for the Israeli army to investigate criminal wrong doing into the death of Abu Ein.
“We received him at 11:15am. He came dead and we didn’t know the cause of death,” said Dr. Samir Samiba, department head of Ramallah’s hospital’s emergency room, where Abu Ein was taken after his injury. Dr. Samiba noted there were no apparent signs that blunt trauma was the cause of death. The minister’s remains were then transferred for an autopsy to the Abu Dis Institute for Forensic Medicine near Jerusalem.
“The Israel government bears full responsibility for the killing of Minster Abu Ein and the systematic crimes committed against the Palestinian people,” said Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat this afternoon. “This new assassination will have severe consequences. The Palestinian leadership is currently weighing its response.”
Leaders in the Palestinian Authority will meet this evening to discuss possible actions against Israel over the killing of the minister. The Palestinian government has announced all official events will be cancelled for the next three days as a mourning gesture. The minister’s killing comes as Israeli-Palestinian relations have hit a sour point following the collapse of direct negotiations sponsored by John Kerry last spring, the summer war in Gaza, and clashes and violence around Jerusalem in the fall.
Update on official responses:
“The event in which Ziad Abu Ein died is under investigation by the IDF. We express sorrow over his death,” said the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in a statement. “Security stability is important to both sides and we will continue coordination with the PA.”
“Today we were very upset with the martyrdom of one of our hero, one of our men, one of the freedom fighters in a peaceful protest,” said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this evening, speaking before a meeting of the PLO Executive committee and the Fatah Central Committee. “What happened today is a crime in all meanings and we can’t be silent about it. This leadership is holding a meeting at the moment so we can decide what we want, and frankly, all the options are open for discussion and implementation. And we have no other alternatives.” A statement from the president on the Palestinian Authority’s course of action is expected later tonight.