Israelis investigate claim that boy was killed by gunfire from a tank

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A Palestinian boy aged seven playing near his home in the Gaza Strip was killed by gunfire from an Israeli tank yesterday, according to a neighbour who said he saw the shooting.

The Israeli army said it was investigating the circumstances of the death of the child, Mahmoud al-Talalqa, but denied the neighbour's claim that a soldier had beckoned the boy towards the tank and opened fire. Asked about the man's testimony, an army spokeswoman said no Israeli soldier would deliberately kill an innocent civilian.

The neighbour, Iyad al-Amasi, 30, said he had been standing on his balcony watching a group of about 15 children play about 20 metres away near a sand hill outside the bedouin village of al-Qarya al-Badawiya. An Israeli tank then approached from the direction of the nearby Jewish settlement of Dugit, Mr Amasi said.

"One soldier showed up from the upper cover of the tank and saluted the kids, waving his hand to them and calling on the children to come, before getting inside again," Mr Amasi said. He said the boys moved towards the tank, which opened fire. One child fell to the ground and the others ran away as the firing stopped, Mr Amasi said.

The army spokeswoman said: "This specific incident is now being investigated but under no circumstances would an Israeli soldier intentionally hit an innocent civilian." Earlier, the army said that Palestinians had fired several mortar bombs at a settlement in the area, which it did not name.

Muawiyah Hassanein, the director general of the casualty department at Gaza's Shifa hospital, said that Talalqa had been hit in the chest and abdomen by at least four bullets. The boy's father collapsed in the hospital as he was led to see his son's body. The child's funeral was scheduled for today.

Child stone throwers were a mainstay of the Palestinian uprising early in the 17-month old intifada, when scores of teenagers were killed by Israeli live fire. Palestinian groups estimate that child fatalities account for about one-third of the more than 900 Palestinian deaths to date. (Reuters)