TEQUA, West Bank (AP) - A throng of men clutching the body of a 7-year-old Palestinian boy marched through a town in the occupied West Bank toward the child's final resting place on Friday, a day after his parents say he died from fear of Israeli soldiers.
Rayan Suleiman, with bright eyes and a backpack emblazoned with an animated race car, was walking home from school on Thursday when his family says 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 the children, their parents say. Just moments later, Rayan, the youngest of the three brothers, was dead.
The story shot across the occupied West Bank, providing an emotive focus for fury over Israel's military tactics and what Palestinians contend is their victimization by the Israeli occupation.
The State Department demanded an investigation. 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, threatening to fuel already heightened tensions just a day after the deadliest Israeli raid since the military escalated its crackdown on the West Bank earlier this year.
Like many such incidents in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rayan's death has sparked contention. The Israeli military has denied any violence in the interaction with Rayan's family, saying that just one officer came to the family's house after spotting children throwing stones.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said the officer spoke in a "very calm manner" with Rayan's father and left.
"There was no violence, no entry into the house," Hecht said.
Yasser Suleiman, Rayan's father, told The Associated Press on Friday that Rayan collapsed after he saw the Israeli soldiers who chased him appear at his front door. Suleiman said he was trying to reason with the soldiers, who accused his children of throwing rocks. The soldiers threatened to return at night and arrest all three children, including Rayan's older brothers, ages 8 and 10, Suleiman said. Amid the chaos, Rayan fell on the floor, unconscious.
Doctors at a hospital in Beit Jala, a Palestinian town south of Jerusalem, could not resuscitate him. A pediatric specialist, Dr. Mohamed Ismail, said Rayan was healthy and had no previous medical conditions.
"The most probable scenario of what happened is that under stress, he had excess adrenaline secretion, which caused the increase of his heart beat," Ismail said. "He developed cardiac arrest."
A forensic doctor is currently conducting an autopsy on Rayan.
In the meantime on Friday, a crowd of mourners thronged his body outside his stone house in Tequa, a Palestinian town that borders an Israeli settlement with some 4,000 residents.
"God is great!" they shouted, some jogging to stay ahead of his small body on the wooden pallet. "Oh Rayan, light of the eye!"