A throng of men clutching the body of a seven-year-old Palestinian boy marched through a town in the occupied West Bank towards the child’s final resting place on Friday, a day after his parents say he died from fear of armed Israeli soldiers.
Rayan Suleiman, with bright eyes and a backpack emblazoned with an animated racing car, was walking home from school on Thursday when his family said he and his brothers were chased by Israeli soldiers.
After the boys bolted home, the troops banged furiously on the door and threatened to arrest them. Just moments later, Rayan, the youngest of the three brothers, was dead.
Rayan’s cousin, Mohammed Suleiman, told Al Jazeera that upon his arrival at his house, Rayan was chased by the soldiers who were yelling at him.
“The soldiers shouted at him that he’s [a] stone thrower,” he said. “He ran away from one side, and the soldier met him from the other side [of the house]. Rayan saw the soldier in front of him, and was shocked and dropped dead out of fear,” he said.
Hadeel Salman, a neighbour and witness, said Israeli soldiers were “going in all directions looking for any child they could find”.
“The soldiers even summoned my young brother – they told him he threw stones at them and needed to be arrested,” Salman told Al Jazeera. “He insisted he had nothing to do with it.”
The story spread across the West Bank, providing an emotive focus for fury over Israel’s military tactics.
The US State Department demanded an investigation, while the European Union said it was “shocked” by Rayan’s “tragic death”.
Photographs of Rayan’s tiny, lifeless body under a sheet in the hospital became a potent new symbol overnight. His death came a day after the deadliest Israeli incursion since the military escalated its crackdown on parts of the West Bank earlier this year.