RAMALLAH - A senior Palestinian minister died Wednesday after being beaten by Israeli forces during a protest march in the West Bank, medical and security sources told AFP.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas condemned the “barbaric act” and vowed measures in response.

Ziad Abu Ein, who was in charge of the issue of Israeli settlements for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a minister without a portfolio, “was martyred after being beaten in the chest,” said Ahmed Bitawi, the director of the Ramallah hospital.

A Palestinian security source told AFP that Israeli forces beat Abu Ein with the butts of their rifles and their helmets during a protest march in the village of Turmus Ayya near Ramallah. An AFP photographer said Israeli soldiers had fired tear gas as Abu Ein participated in a march of some 300 Palestinians who intended to plant olive trees. Three soldiers grabbed Abu Ein and hit him in the chest, the photographer said. Abu Ein fell and an Israeli army doctor rushed to treat him before he was evacuated to hospital.

Around 30 Israeli soldiers and border policemen fired tear gas and sound grenades at the group and a scuffle ensued in which one border policeman pushed Abu Ein and grabbed his neck firmly with one hand. Footage of the incident and pictures taken by Reuters do not show Abu Ein responding with any violence.

Minutes later the minister began to look faint and fell to the ground clasping his chest. He died on his way to hospital. Another witness, Kamal Abu Safaka, said that Abu Ein was “beaten by a soldier” in the chest “after having a conversation with the officer in charge.”

Abbas condemned “the brutal assault that led to the martyrdom” of Abu Ein, calling it “a barbaric act that cannot be tolerated or accepted,” official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

“We will take the necessary measures after the results of the investigation into the incident,” Abbas said, declaring three days of mourning.

The Islamist movement Hamas, the de facto rulers in the Gaza Strip, issued a statement mourning Abu Eid’s death and calling on the PA to cease security coordination 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,” it said in a statement.

Besides his role in the PA monitoring Israeli settlements and the separation barrier, Abu Ein was a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and previously served as deputy Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs. The incident comes at a time of heightened tension between Israel and the Palestinians, following months of violent unrest in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Clashes broke out in a refugee camp near Ramallah and an Israeli soldier shot and critically wounded a Palestinian youth, Palestinian medics said. Ramallah shops were shuttered for the day in protest at the minister’s death. Israel’s army spokesman said the march towards the settlement involved “approximately 200 rioters” and was stopped by its forces using “riot dispersal means.” Footage shows the marchers moving peacefully towards the demonstration.

The Israeli military said in a statement it was investigating the circumstances that led to Abu Ein’s death.

A leader of Palestinian civil society groups for decades, Abu Ein was a regular attendee of non-violent protests and was appointed this year to head a government-backed protest group, the Committee to Resist Settlements and the Wall.

“This is the terrorism of the occupation, this is a terrorist army, practising its terrorism on the Palestinian people,” he told the official Palestine TV. “We came to plant trees on Palestinian land, and they launch into an attack on us from the first moment. Nobody threw a single stone.” Ten Israelis and a foreign visitor have been killed by Palestinian assailants over the past three months, while more than a dozen Palestinians have also been killed, including most of those who carried out the attacks.

Palestinian officials indicated that cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli security forces in the West Bank could be suspended as a result of Abu Ein’s death.

Meanwhile, EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini demanded an “immediate” inquiry into the death of senior Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein during a confrontation with Israeli troops in the West Bank.

“Reports of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces are extremely worrying: I call for an immediate, independent investigation into... Abu Ein’s death,” she said in a statement.