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International bodies urge investigation into Palestinian minister death

Ban Ki Moon called on Israelis and Palestinians to "exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation"
Ziad Abu Ein falls to the ground after being hit by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank (MEE/Oren Ziv)

The UN, US and EU on Wednesday called for a swift response to the death of a senior Palestinian official, who died earlier in the day after a confrontation with Israeli troops at a protest in the occupied West Bank.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon said he was "deeply saddened" by Ziad Abu Ein's "brutal death" and called on Israel authorities to "conduct a swift and transparent investigation" into the minister's death, according to Moon's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

He called for Palestinians and the Israelis to "exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation".

Ziad Abu Ein was the Palestinian Authority (PA) minister without portfolio who headed the committee on Israeli settelements and separation wall. He died on Wednesday after allegedly being hit by Israeli soldiers during a protest in the village of Turmusiya, witnesses told MEE.

The Palestinian minister had been attended a rally - along with around 150 other people - to protest the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements to coincide with International Human Rights Day.

Abu Ein died "after being beaten in the chest," said Ahmed Bitawi, the director of the Ramallah hospital. 

The EU also called for an "immediate" investigation, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stating that reports of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces were "deeply worrying."

"This is a dramatic reminder for the entire international community of the deteriorating situation on the ground," she said.

The US also released a statement, urging a "swift and transparent investigation, a call echoed by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“The latest incident shows once again that the current situation is untenable,” Steinmeier said.

Israel launch investigation

Israel's defence minister expressed "regret" at Abu Ein's death and said an investigation has been launched.

"The incident in which Ziad Abu Ein died is being investigated by the Israel Defence Forces," Moshe Yaalon said in a statement. "We regret his death."

Israeli soldiers reportedly detained three people, including one Palestinian journalist, at the protest in Turmusiya.

Protestors had marched towards the nearby Adei Ad settlement, when they were stopped by Israeli soldiers.

The soldiers formed a line and pushed protestors back. At this point the minister was pushed to the ground, where he fell holding his heart.

He was not bleeding, but appeared suffer a stroke, when the Palestinian ambulance services took him to a hospital in Ramallah, where he was announced dead.

A Palestinian security source told AFP that Israeli forces beat Abu Ein with the butts of their rifles.

Abdullah Abu Rahme, who was among the organisers of Wednesday's protest, was at the scene and spoke to MEE.

"Farmers at the village told us that settlers from Adei Ad attack their homes, attack their farms, and attack their people, every day. We planned to plant trees on land that legally belonged to the village and we planned this protest," he said.

"So today morning we take our Palestinian flags and our olive trees and we go to the land. We were ministers, farmers, old men and women, Palestinian activists and international activists."

"Abu Ein was a Minister, and he visiting farmers that were suffering from the settlements and the occupation. The people asked the Minister to help and to be with the farmers, and this was what he was doing, bringing olive trees to plant."

Abbas: "all options are open"

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat condemend Abu Ein’s death as "another example of Israel's vicious and arrogant actions committed against the Palestinians."

''This new assassination will have severe consequences, the Palestinian leadership is currently weighing its response.''

Erekat added: ''The international community must uphold its responsibilities to protect the Palestinian people, stop Israeli crimes and end Israel's prolonged occupation.''

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, denouncing the police attack as a "savage" and "barbaric" act that could not be "accepted or tolerated."

"All options are open for discussion and implementation," he told an emergency session of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah amid speculation that security cooperation with Israel could be shelved.

Hamas had earlier called on the PA to end their security cooperation 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," the group's spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.

"Hamas offers its condolences for the death of Palestinian martyr Ziad Abu Ein, who had been in charge of the Israeli settlements file at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and extends its sympathy to his family."

Abu Zuhri called for "uniting all Palestinian forces to confront violations committed by the Israeli occupation."