RAMALLAH - Thousands of Palestinians massed Thursday to mourn a senior official who died in a confrontation with Israeli troops, while the army sent reinforcements and dispersed protesters in the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership blamed Israel for the “killing” of 55-year-old Ziad Abu Ein, as tensions threatened to boil over into another round of violence in the occupied territories.
Officials and onlookers streamed into the Ramallah headquarters of president Mahmud Abbas for the funeral procession to a nearby cemetery, an AFP correspondent said. Uniformed Palestinians carried Abu Ein’s coffin, draped in a Palestinian flag, into the courtyard, as nationalist songs blared and mourners chanted “Revenge!” and “Your blood will not be spilled in vain!”
The coffin was lowered carefully into the ground at a cemetery in Al-Bireh, on the outskirts of Ramallah.
Schools were closed in a day of mourning and posters of Abu Ein were plastered on walls throughout the West Bank city. A short distance away, additional Israeli troops and border guards were deployed in anticipation of tensions with mourners and protesters, an army spokeswoman said, especially given the cemetery’s proximity to the Jewish settlement of Psagot.
Police said minor clashes took place in several places as Palestinians threw stones at security forces in Psagot, as well as in the West Bank villages of Nabi Saleh and Qalandia, and the city of Hebron.
The protesters were dispersed with “riot dispersal means” but there were no injuries or arrests, police said.
Abu Ein died Wednesday after a confrontation with Israeli soldiers during an anti-settlements protest march by roughly 300 Palestinians who intended to plant olive trees as a symbolic act, an AFP photographer said.
Troops fired tear gas, three soldiers grabbed Abu Ein and he was struck in the chest during the confrontation. Videos circulating online showed the soldiers pushing Abu Ein firmly in the chest and neck. He collapsed and was treated by an Israeli army doctor, but died later in hospital. “After hearing the results of the post-mortem, the Palestinian government holds Israel fully responsible for the killing of Ziad Abu Ein,” government spokesman Ihab Bseiso told reporters in Ramallah on Thursday.
A Palestinian minister said the post-mortem, which was carried out by a Palestinian, an Israeli and Jordanian doctors, had shown that Abu Ein was killed by the actions of Israeli troops. “The reason for the death of Abu Ein was his being hit by (Israeli) occupation troops and because of the heavy use of tear gas,” Palestinian civil affairs minister Hussein al-Sheikh told AFP.
Sheikh said Israeli forces had prevented Abu Ein from getting to a hospital quickly enough to save his life.
Israel’s health ministry said the death was caused by a “blockage of the coronary artery” which “could have been caused by stress”, adding that Abu Ein suffered from poor health including heart disease.
The incident prompted Abbas to threaten measures in response, saying “all options are open for discussion and implementation”, but without specifying what those were.
Meanwhile, France’s upper house of parliament on Thursday urged the government to recognise Palestine as a state, following a similar and highly symbolic vote in the lower house.
The Senate resolution, calling for French recognition of Palestine and an “immediate restarting” of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, passed narrowly, with 153 votes in favour and 146 against.
Lawmakers in Britain and Spain have already passed similar motions and Sweden has gone even further, officially recognising Palestine as a state, in a move that prompted Israel to recall its ambassador.
Moreover,  Irish lawmakers urged their government Wednesday to recognise Palestine as a state in a symbolic motion that sailed through parliament unopposed. Ireland’s parliament is the fourth European assembly to call for the recognition of Palestinian statehood since October.
Sweden has gone even further, officially recognising Palestine as a state in a move that prompted Israel to recall its ambassador.
The non-binding motion agreed by lawmakers in Dublin called on the government to “officially recognise the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in UN resolutions”.
This would be “a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, it added.
The government is not bound to follow the motion but Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said Ireland supported early recognition of a Palestinian state “in principle.”
“We have always supported a viable two-state solution and will continue to support that in any manner and by any means,” Flanagan told parliament.
European politicians have become more active in pushing for a sovereign Palestinian state since the collapse of US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in April, and ensuing conflict in Gaza, where more than 2,000 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis were killed this summer.
“It’s been suggested that recognition now might help jump-start a stalemate process. This was the judgement made by Sweden and indeed it is the spirit of this evening’s motion,” Flanagan said.
Despite being proposed by the opposition Sinn Fein party, the motion had cross-party support, dispensing the need for a vote.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who was refused entry to Gaza by Israel during a visit to the region last week, said the motion was about inspiring hope.
“We must stand with the Palestinian and Israeli citizens who want peace - who are taking risks for peace. The passing of this motion is an important contribution to this,” Adams said.
The motion also called on the Irish government to do everything it could internationally to secure “an inclusive and viable peace process”.
The chairperson of the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Martin O’Quigley, welcomed the move.
“It’s very important, but just as important is for the Irish government to make Israel accountable for what has happened and what is happening in Palestine,” he told AFP.
The Israeli embassy in Dublin said however the motion was premature.
“A vote in favour of this motion, therefore, is a vote for Ireland, a neutral country, to intervene in a foreign conflict in favour of one national movement at the expense of another,” the Embassy said in a statement. “That is not how peace is brought about.”