Palestinian boy, 7, dies in disputed circumstances amid IDF activity near Bethlehem

Military denies connection between its activity and Rayan Suleiman’s death; family says he had a ‘heart attack’ after officer came to their home in Tuqu’ to question relatives

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

7-year-old Rayan Suleiman in an undated photo. (Courtesy)
7-year-old Rayan Suleiman in an undated photo. (Courtesy)

A 7-year-old Palestinian boy died on Thursday in disputed circumstances during an Israeli army search in a West Bank town near Bethlehem.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry claimed Rayan Suleiman fell from an unspecified height after being chased by soldiers near the Palestinian town of Tuqu’, south of Bethlehem.

The boy’s uncle, Muhammed Suleiman, told the Haaretz daily that Rayan “had a heart attack” after Israeli troops arrived at the family’s home.

The Israel Defense Forces denied any involvement in the child’s death, citing a preliminary probe of the incident.

A road running through the town links two settlement blocs south of Jerusalem, and Israeli cars there are occasionally targeted in stone-throwing attacks. The IDF said several suspects had hurled stones at Israeli cars in the area earlier, and troops entered the town to search for suspects.

A military source told The Times of Israel that an IDF officer questioned the young boy’s father at their home. Troops also questioned several other Palestinian parents over their children’s alleged involvement in the stone-throwing.

The IDF said there were no clashes amid the searches, and troops did not deploy any riot control measures, such as tear gas.

The IDF said it was aware of the 7-year-old’s death but said that “no connection was found between his death and IDF activity in the area.”

The army said it would continue to investigate the circumstances of the incident.

Muhammed Suleiman told Haaretz that “the father opened the door and the soldiers entered and there was a commotion in the house and shouting.”

“[Rayan] apparently feared that he would be arrested and started shouting. He collapsed in fear and fell in the house and had a heart attack,” Suleiman said, adding that Rayan did not suffer from any pre-existing medical conditions.

Israeli soldiers during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank village of Tuqu’, south of Bethlehem on January 25, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

According to the PA Health Ministry, the boy was taken to a hospital where his death was declared by medical officials.

The incident came amid heightened tensions in the West Bank during an uptick in violence.

On Wednesday morning, at least four Palestinians were killed in a military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. Two of those killed were gunmen responsible for a series of shootings in the West Bank and were planning “more significant attacks in the near future,” according to officials.

Palestinian gunmen in recent months have targeted military posts, troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements and civilians on the roads.

Several Israelis driving through the West Bank have also been hurt in stone-throwing attacks by Palestinian teens in recent weeks.

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