During the scuffle, a member of Israel’s security forces held Ziad Abu Ain, 55, by the neck. Abu Ain later collapsed, received first aid and died en route to a hospital, witnesses said.
What killed the Palestinian official remains unclear and his body will undergo an autopsy attended by Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli pathologists, the Israeli army said. But the death of Abu Ain likely will enflame simmering tensions that remain after US-brokered peace talks fell apart earlier this year.
Last night, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the head and seriously wounded in a confrontation with Israeli soldiers in the nearby Jalazoun refugee camp, said Ahmed Bitawi, the head of Ramallah Hospital. The Israeli military said it was investigating.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to meet with senior officials from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and his Fatah movement to discuss a possible response to Abu Ain’s death.
In a statement, Abbas called the death a “barbaric act,” but added that he would wait for the results of the investigation before deciding on a response. He also called for three days of mourning in the Palestinian territories.
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for an independent investigation and said that “reports of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces are extremely worrying.”
The UN envoy to the region, Robert Serry, appealed for calm and urged Israel to carry out an immediate, transparent investigation.
The events began with a march by several dozen Palestinians who headed to agricultural land near the West Bank village of Turmus Aya to plant olive tree saplings, participants said. The land is close to an unauthorised Israeli settlement outpost, Adei-Ad, one of dozens in the West Bank, and mostly off limits to the village’s farmers, protesters said.
As the marchers walked toward the land, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and threw stun grenades at the Palestinians, said Kamal Abu Sassaka, an assistant to Abu Ain who said he was by the Cabinet member’s side the entire time.
Abu Ain told an Israeli officer that this was a peaceful protest, but was told the group could not move further, said Abu Sassaka.
He said one soldier hit Abu Ain in the chest with his rifle butt.
Abu Ain, his face pale, sat the ground after the clash, leaning against a rock and holding his chest. Abu Sassaka said an Israeli soldier administered first aid to Abu Ain before protesters carried him away. An ambulance later took Abu Ain to Ramallah Hospital and he died en route, Abu Sassaka said.
The Israeli military said about 200 “rioters” gathered in Turmus Aya and that troops prevented them from reaching Adei-Ad, using “riot dispersal means.”
The Israeli military also said it proposed to Palestinian officials that they conduct a joint investigation into Abu Ain’s death.