JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli military on Thursday acquitted itself of wrongdoing in the death of a 7-year-old Palestinian boy whose family says he “died of fear” after meeting Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank.
The United States, the European Union and the United Nations had demanded an investigation into the death of second-grader Rayan Suleiman, who became the last lightning rod in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as outraged Palestinians blamed Israel for his death last week.
Rayan’s parents claim he was chased by Israeli soldiers on his way home from school and collapsed when troops appeared at his home in the Palestinian town of Tequa. They say he passed out after troops interrogated his father and threatened Rayan and his brothers with arrest.
Doctors who treated Rayan said a preliminary examination showed that Rayan went into cardiac arrest caused by what could be described as a severe panic attack. A Palestinian hospital said it had performed an autopsy, but the findings have not yet been made public.
Israel closed its investigation into his death on Thursday, denying any violence in the meeting between Israeli soldiers and Rayan’s family and saying the “soldiers acted as expected while adhering to (army) values”.
Israeli military investigations have long been criticized by human rights groups and Palestinians who claim they are not independent or effective, citing a low charge rate. The military insists that the system works.
In the investigation into Rayan’s death, the military said one of its commanders searched several homes in Tequa for suspects who had fled after throwing rocks at motorists last week.
The soldier called Rayan’s father and his two children to their doorstep last Thursday for questioning, describing the meeting as a conversation “conducted in a respectful manner, without any form of physical contact and certainly without the use of verbal or physical violence.”
The troops then saw the father in a car with his son on his lap, the military said, noting that it found “no evidence” that Rayan suffered physical damage from Israeli military activity.
Hundreds of people attended Rayan’s funeral last Friday, and his death struck a chord with Palestinian parents. Fears for the safety of their children and the fear of soldiers knocking on the door are part of everyday life under an entrenched Israeli military rule that has now been in existence for 56 years. According to human rights groups, Israeli soldiers routinely arrest children and teenagers during nighttime raids.
Rayan’s death came as violence escalated in the occupied West Bank, where nearly half a million Israeli settlers live on land Palestinians want for a future independent state. Israel has made arrests almost every night since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel last spring. More than 100 Palestinians have died in the raids this year — a record in seven years.
According to Israel, most of the dead were militants, but also local youth protesting the raids and some civilians were killed in the violence.
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