AP / September 29, 2022
JERUSALEM – The U.S. State Department is calling on Israel to open a “thorough” investigation into the mysterious death of a 7-year-old Palestinian boy who collapsed and died on Thursday, shortly after Israeli soldiers came to his home in the occupied West Bank.
Relatives said Rayan Suleiman had no previous health problems and accused the army of scaring the child to death. The army called the death a tragedy and said its soldiers were not to blame.
The incident added to the rising tensions in the West Bank, where Israeli troops have been conducting daily arrest raids that have frequently escalated into deadly violence in recent months.
Earlier in the day, young Palestinian village boys were seen throwing stones at cars driving on a highway near the Israeli settlement of Tekoa, which lies close to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Later, relatives said that soldiers banged on the door and wanted to arrest Rian’s older brothers for alleged stone throwing.
Mohammed Suleiman, a 22-year-old cousin, said Rayan was shrieking in fear at sight of the soldiers and his parents shouted, “come here,” to calm him down. He said after the soldiers left, the boy collapsed. He said Rayan had been healthy.
The boy’s father, Yasser Suleiman, said Rayan tried to run away when the soldiers said they wanted to arrest his brothers and was briefly chased by the soldiers. He said Rayan was vomiting blood in the car after collapsing and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“He was martyred from the fear of them,” the father told Palestine TV.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said a senior officer on the scene went to the house after spotting one of the stone throwers on a balcony and told the father to make the children stop throwing stones at motorists. He said the officer spoke in a “very calm manner” and left.
“There was no violence, no entry into the house,” Hecht said.
In Washington, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, Vedant Patel, said the United States was “heartbroken to learn of the death of an innocent Palestinian child.”
“We support a thorough and immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the child’s death,” Patel said.
Hecht said the investigation was continuing.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the army is incapable of investigating wrongdoing by its forces and that soldiers are rarely held accountable.
Palestinian social media were awash with photos of Rayan superimposed over the golden Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, with Palestinians declaring him a “martyr” and condemning Israel for his death. The official Palestinian news agency WAFA headlined its report “the death of a child while being chased,” in effect blaming Israel for the death.
The boy was scheduled to be buried on Friday, when Palestinian demonstrators often clash with Israeli soldiers.
The funeral comes at a time of rising violence in the West Bank.
On Wednesday, four Palestinians were killed and 44 wounded during an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank town of Jenin. It was the deadliest episode since Israel launched its crackdown earlier this year.
Israel has been conducting nightly arrest raids, primarily in the northern West Bank, since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel last spring. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed, making this the deadliest year in the occupied territory since 2015.
Most of the dead have been wanted militants who opened fire, or youths who threw firebombs or stones at soldiers entering their neighborhoods. But several civilians who were not involved in any violence have also died.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 June War. The Palestinians seek the territory, now home to about 500,000 Jewish settlers, as the heartland of a future independent state.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed reporting