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Palestinian minister dies after clash with Israeli troops in West Bank protest

Palestinian Cabinet member, Ziad Abu Ain, was hit in the chest with a rifle butt by an Israeli soldier during a West Bank protest rally, says one witness. Abu Ain headed a Palestinian Authority department dealing with Israeli settlements

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Ziad Abu Ain, Palestinian deputy minister of prisoner affairs speaks to reporters during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, in this 2012 file photo. Ziad Abu Ain, died after an encounter with Israeli troops during a Palestinian protest in the West Bank Wednesday Dec. 10, 2014 near the West Bank village of Turmus Aya.

(AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)

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A Palestinian Cabinet member died shortly after 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. A Palestinian health official said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death of Abu Ain. Family said Abu Ain was 55 years old.

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The Israeli military said it is looking into the incident. The Palestinian Authority said it was weighing its response.

"The Israel government bears full responsibility for the killing of Minster Abu Ain and the systematic crimes committed against the Palestinian people," said Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian peace negotiator and a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "This new assassination will have severe consequences."

Erekat did not elaborate on what that response the Palestinian Authority could take.

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 Israeli settlement and mostly off limits to the village's farmers, they said.

As the marchers walked toward the land, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and 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 proceed, said Abu Sassaka.

He said there was pushing and shoving between marchers and soldiers, and that soldiers fired tear gas toward the legs of the Palestinians. He said one soldier hit Abu Ain in the chest with his rifle butt, an account confirmed by other witnesses.

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An initial report that Abu Ain was hit by a tear gas canister could not be confirmed.

Footage aired on pan Gulf-based satellite news channel Al-Hadath showed Abu Ain, pale faced, crumple to the ground after the clash, holding his chest.

Abu Sassaka said Abu Ain was given first aid by a soldier before being taken to the village clinic and from there by ambulance to Ramallah Hospital. Abu Ain died en route to the hospital, Abu Sassaka said.

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 Abu Ain's cause of death.