RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — A Palestinian Cabinet member died shortly a West Bank protest Wednesday in which witnesses said Israeli troops fired tear gas at him and dozens of Palestinians marchers.
Witnesses also said the Cabinet member, Ziad Abu Ain, was beaten by an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli military said it is looking into the report and had no immediate comment.
The incident began with a march by several dozen Palestinians who headed to agricultural land near the village of Turmus Aya to plant olive tree saplings, said one of the participants, Mahmoud Aloul, a senior member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.
The land belongs to Turmus Aya, but is close to an Israeli settlement and mostly off limits to the village's farmers, Aloul said.
As the marchers walked toward the land, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at the Palestinians, Aloul said. He said Abu Ain was hit by a tear gas canister, an account not immediately confirmed by other participants who only said the group was engulfed by tear gas.
Another marcher, Salah Hawajeh, said Abu Ain marched toward the soldiers ahead of everyone else, until he was stopped by a soldier.
He said the soldier head-butted Abu Ain and then hit him in the chest with his rifle butt. Hawajeh said Abu Ain then dropped to the ground, and was evacuated by ambulance.
Abu Ain headed a Palestinian Authority department dealing with Israeli settlements and the Israeli separation barrier, and had the rank of Cabinet member.
Previously, he served as deputy minister for prisoner affairs.
Osama Najar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry, said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death.
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