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Autopsy report fuels dispute over death of Palestinian official

Members of the Palestinian national security forces carry the body of Palestinian Cabinet member Ziad Abu Ain during his funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. Israeli and Palestinian pathologists disagreed Thursday on whether a blow to the body or a bad heart was the main cause of death of the Palestinian Cabinet minister who collapsed shortly after scuffling with Israeli troops during a West Bank protest.
Members of the Palestinian national security forces carry the body of Palestinian Cabinet member Ziad Abu Ain during his funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. Israeli and Palestinian pathologists disagreed Thursday on whether a blow to the body or a bad heart was the main cause of death of the Palestinian Cabinet minister who collapsed shortly after scuffling with Israeli troops during a West Bank protest. AP

A senior Palestinian official who died Wednesday after a scuffle with Israeli border police suffered a heart attack that could have been caused by stress, according to a preliminary autopsy report released Thursday by Israel’s Health Ministry.

The finding only added to the heated dispute over the death of Ziad Abu Ain, who was responsible for protest activities against the Israeli separation barrier and Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He was given a state funeral Thursday in Ramallah, the West Bank city that’s the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority.

“We hold the Israeli occupation government responsible for the killing of minister Ziad Abu Ain,” said Ehab Bessaiso, the Palestinian government spokesman.

In Wednesday’s faceoff with Israeli border police blocking a protest march to land claimed by Palestinians near a Jewish settlement outpost, Abu Ain, 55, was grabbed by the throat and shoved in the chest. He later appeared to suffer chest pains before losing consciousness. He died on the way to a hospital in Ramallah.

The preliminary report on the autopsy, which was conducted by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian pathologists, attributed the death to “a blockage of the coronary artery due to hemorrhaging” that “could have been caused by stress.” Signs of “light hemorrhaging and localized pressure” were found in Abu Ain’s neck.

“The poor condition of the deceased’s heart caused him to be more sensitive to stress,” the Israeli report said. It said Abu Ain had suffered from heart disease and that blood vessels in his heart were found to be more than 80 percent blocked by plaque. Old scars indicated he’d experienced previous heart attacks, the report said.

But the chief Palestinian pathologist, Dr. Saber al Aloul, said Abu Ain’s fatal heart episode was “caused by injury, and not the result of a natural condition.” He said Abu Ain’s front teeth had been damaged, his neck was bruised and his body bore traces of tear gas.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told the BBC that the heart attack was caused by “Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ain.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with top aides Friday to discuss possible responses, and Erekat said “major steps” would be considered, including suspending security cooperation with Israel.

In the absence of peace talks, security coordination has remained a key element in relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian security forces have helped prevent attacks on Israelis and worked to avert clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops.

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