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Palestinian Leader Calls It a 'Barbaric Act' After Gov't Official Dies After Clash With Israeli Troops

Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ain (L), in charge of the issue of Israeli settlements for the Palestinian Authority, argues with Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the village of Turmus Aya near Ramallah, on December 10, 2014. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

A Palestinian government official died Wednesday after a clash with Israeli troops during a demonstration in the West Bank.

Israeli troops fired tear gas into the crowd; varying eyewitness accounts said Ziad Abu Ain inhaled gas or was hit by a gas canister. Others described him as getting hit in the chest with a rifle butt or a soldier's helmet.

According to the Associated Press, the 55-year-old collapsed during the confrontation and received first aid, but died on the way to the hospital.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Abu Ain’s death a "barbaric act,'" the Jerusalem Post reported. He pledged to take "necessary steps" after an investigation.

Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ain (L), in charge of the issue of Israeli settlements for the Palestinian Authority, argues with Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the village of Turmus Aya near Ramallah, on December 10, 2014. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images) Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ain, left, in charge of the issue of Israeli settlements for the Palestinian Authority, argues with Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the village of Turmus Aya, near Ramallah, Dec. 10, 2014. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

An Israeli television correspondent who was on the scene standing next to Abu Ain said he wasn't struck by soldiers at all.

Some 100 foreign and Palestinian activists were headed to plant trees as part of a protest of an Israeli settlement when they met up with the soldiers, Reuters reported. According to the AP, the protesters were going to plant near the West Bank village of Turmus Aya, which is close to an Israeli settlement.

It was not immediately clear from conflicting details in Israel and Palestinian media reports what prompted the soldiers to fire tear gas.

Kamal Abu Sassaka, an assistant to Abu Ain who said he was with his boss when the clash occurred, told the AP that Israeli soldiers also fired stun grenades at the group.

The aide said that Abu Ain told an Israeli officer that the protest was peaceful, but the group was told it could not proceed to where it was headed.

According to his account, soldiers and marchers pushed and shoved each other, and soldiers fired tear gas toward the activists' legs.

He also said that a soldier hit the cabinet member in the chest with his rifle butt.

The Times of Israel quoted senior Fatah official Mahmoud Aloul, who said Abu Ain was hit by a tear gas canister, though others did not describe that happening.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority committee against Israeli settlements that Abu Ain headed told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an that an Israeli soldier beat Abu Ain in the chest with his helmet.

Abu Sassaka said a soldier administered first aid before Abu Ain was transported to a Ramallah hospital, where he was declared dead.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was looking into what happened and would issue an update.

The Jerusalem Post quoted IDF sources who initially believed Abu Ain died of a heart attack. Abu Ain's family told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.

An Al-Arabiya reporter said Abu Ain had told him when the clash began that he would “embarrass Israel today,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

The Times of Israel reported that Abu Ain was previously extradited from the U.S. to Israel for a 1979 terrorist bombing in which two Israeli teens were killed. He was released from Israeli prison in a 1985 prisoner swap.

Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told the AP, “This new assassination will have severe consequences."

A senior Palestinian official said the Palestinian Authority would move to suspend security cooperation with Israel following the incident, the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel reported.

This video showed Abu Ain on the ground, appearing in distress, holding his chest:

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