Security forces braced for violence, and officials prepared for an international backlash after senior Palestinian Authority official Ziad Abu Ein died soon after a confrontation with the IDF in the West Bank.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah said they were not ruling out the possibility that the PA leadership would decide to suspend security coordination with Israel to protest Abu Ein’s death.
An autopsy is expected to determine whether his death was the result of a heart attack or IDF violence.
Abu Ein headed the PLO’s Commission Against the Separation Wall and Settlements.
He had been taking part in a demonstration outside the Palestinian village of Turmus Aiya, near Ramallah, to mark International Human Rights Day. The participants planned to plant olive trees.
The IDF authorized the demonstration, but soldiers stepped in when participants moved close to the outpost of Adei Ad. A shouting match broke out between soldiers and Abu Ein, during which he fell to the ground.
It is unclear whether he was pushed or fell. Video clips from the incident show him holding his chest and gasping. Soldiers also fired a number of stun grenades and tear gas canisters. Video clips show Abu Ein collapsing as he tries to get up from the ground. He was rushed to a Ramallah hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Declaring Abu Ein a “martyr,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas hailed him as a hero of the Palestinian popular resistance.
He called for three days of mourning in the Palestinian territories. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “We express sorrow over his death,” and called on the PA to continue its security cooperation with Israel.
“Security stability is important to both sides, and we will continue coordination with the PA,” Ya’alon said.
The incident occurred amid a rapidly deteriorating security and diplomatic situation.
There has been a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks in the last few months, negotiations are frozen, and the PA has asked the UN Security Council to set a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from territories over the Green Line, including Jerusalem.
Prior to Abu Ein’s death, US Secretary of State John Kerry had already called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet him in Rome on Monday for an emergency meeting on the Security Council resolution.
On Wednesday night, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “we are deeply concerned” and “offer our condolences to [Abu Ein’s] family and PA.”
The US, she said, has called for a swift and transparent investigation and urged both sides not to take steps to increase tensions.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that “reports of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces are extremely worrying,” adding, “This is a dramatic reminder for the entire international community of the deteriorating situation on the ground.”
The UN and the United Kingdom also expressed their sorrow.
Netanyahu sent a message to the PA through his personal emissary, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, to assure it that Israel would thoroughly investigate the incident. Netanyahu also held security consultations throughout the day.
Abu Ein became known for his nonviolent activities, but when he was younger, an Israeli court sentenced him to life in prison in 1982 for his role in a 1979 bombing that killed two Israeli teenagers in Tiberias. He was released in 1985 as part of the Ahmed Jibril prisoner swap.
Abbas called Abu Ein’s death barbaric and convened an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
At the beginning of the meeting, Abbas said that “all options are open for discussion and implementation, and we don’t have other solutions.”
“What happened today is a despicable crime,” he declared. “Israel will try to avoid responsibility for this crime through a number of scenarios, including the claim that one of the soldiers is mentally ill and not responsible for his actions, or that another soldier lost his sight because he couldn’t see the youths who were carrying stones.”
Abbas said that the Palestinians were determined to pursue the popular struggle against Israel by combating settlements.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah phoned his Jordanian counterpart, Abdallah Ennsour, and asked him to send a Jordanian medical team to participate in the autopsy to determine the cause of Abu Ein’s death.
Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub accused Israel of perpetrating “war crimes” against Palestinian civilians. He said that the death of Abu Ein would not pass without punishment.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, called on the PA to stop security coordination with Israel in response to Abu Ein’s death. The two groups also called for escalating “resistance” against Israel.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz ordered battalions of soldiers and border policemen to beef up forces in the West Bank.
In a separate development, a Palestinian involved in clashes with the IDF Wednesday evening was seriously wounded by a rubber bullet at Jilazun, near Ramallah.
An army spokeswoman said some 50 Palestinians had hurled rocks and rolled burning tires at soldiers, who had responded with non-lethal riot dispersal means. The rioters did not disperse, however, and soldiers fired rubber bullets at a man identified as a central instigator, she added. Palestinians treated the man on the spot before evacuating him to the hospital for treatment.
Police said Wednesday that security assessments were under way throughout the capital.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that after dozens of Arab youths had thrown rocks at officers at Rachel’s Tomb and Kalandiya in the afternoon, police were prepared for possible disruptions in Jerusalem.
“The Israel Police continues to make security assessments with an emphasis on Jerusalem to ensure no more rioting takes place,” said Rosenfeld.
Asked how Abu Ein’s death could affect Jerusalem, Dr. Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, cautioned that due to Abu Ein’s high rank in Fatah, it was likely that disturbances would break out in the capital.
Daniel K. Eisenbud and Reuters contributed to this report.