Israel army clears itself in death of 7-year-old Palestinian

JERUSALEM (AP) — ​​The Israeli military on Thursday cleared itself of wrongdoing in the death of a 7-year-old Palestinian boy whose family says he “died of fear” after an encounter with Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank.

The United States, European Union and United Nations had demanded an investigation into the death of second-grader Rayan Suleiman, which became the latest lightning rod in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as outraged Palestinians blamed Israel for his death last week.

Rayan’s parents allege he was chased by Israeli soldiers on his way home from school and that he collapsed when troops appeared at his home in the Palestinian town of Tequa. They say he fell unconscious after troops interrogated his father and threatened Rayan and his brothers with arrest.

Doctors who treated Rayan said a preliminary examination showed Rayan experienced cardiac arrest induced by what could be described as a severe panic attack. A Palestinian hospital said it had conducted an autopsy but its findings have not yet been made public.

Israel closed its investigation into his death on Thursday, denying any violence in the encounter between Israeli soldiers and Rayan’s family and saying the “soldiers acted as expected of them, while adhering to the (army’s) values.”

Israeli military investigations have long drawn criticism from rights groups and Palestinians who charge that they are not independent or effective, citing a low indictment rate. The military insists the system works.

In its probe into Rayan's death, the army said one of its commanders searched several houses in Tequa for suspects who had fled after hurling stones at motorists last week.

It said the soldier summoned Rayan’s father with his two children to their doorstep for interrogation last Thursday, describing the encounter as a conversation “held in a respectful manner, without any form of physical contact and certainly without the use of verbal or physical violence.”

The troops next saw the father in a car with his son on his lap, the army said, noting that it found “no evidence” Rayan suffered physical damage as the result of Israeli military activity.

Hundreds of people attended Rayan's funeral last Friday, and his death struck a nerve with Palestinian parents. Fear for their children’s safety and the dread of soldiers knocking on the door are part of daily life under an entrenched Israeli military rule that is now in its 56th year. Human rights groups say Israeli soldiers routinely arrest children and teenagers during night raids.

Rayan's death came as violence escalates in the occupied West Bank, where nearly half a million Israeli settlers live on land that Palestinians want for a future independent state. Israel has conducted arrest raids almost every night since a series of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel last spring. The incursions have killed over 100 Palestinians this year — a seven-year high.

Most of those killed are said by Israel to have been militants, but local youths protesting the incursions as well as some civilians have also died in the violence.