Five Palestinian children between the ages of 8 and 12 were detained by Israeli soldiers on Wednesday in the West Bank village of al-Rakiz, in the South Hebron Hills, under circumstances which remain contested.
A local Palestinian activist said the boys had been walking in an area between the village and the nearby Havat Ma'on outpost when they were chased by Israeli settlers and proceeded to flee in the direction of the village. Israeli activists claim the children were foraging wild vegetables when they were were approached by masked men who came from the direction of the outpost and subsequently fled. The Israeli army said the children fled the outpost after allegedly trespassing into the backyard of one of the houses there and stealing birds.
According to the Israeli army, the soldiers gave chase after having received a report of a trespassing in a backyard of a house in the outpost, and only realized they were children after apprehending them and that they had stolen parrots. The army added that the trespassing incident was documented on security cameras.
The children were taken to a police station in Kiryat Arba, the army said. According to the police, the children are not under arrest and are being kept there while efforts are being made to locate their parents. However the father of one of the children said he was waiting outside the police station for several hours, and not allowed to enter to see his child.
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According to the Palestinian activist, soldiers, accompanied by settlers, showed up at a house in al-Rakiz to which the children escaped. The activist, a resident of the village of al-Tawani, said the soldiers didn’t specify why they were apprehending the children, who were then taken to an Israeli police station in the settlement of Kiryat Arba.
In video footage shot by Israeli activists who were at the scene, the children can be seen carrying pails, which the activists say the children were filling with gundelia (akkoub), a wild vegetable that they were foraging, when they were approached by two men that came from the direction of the outpost, with fabric around their heads, covering their faces.
According to Hillel Germi and Oren Peled, two Israeli activists who were at the scene and saw the incident, a vehicle then came from the direction of the outpost and the children fled, leaving behind the pails they had carried. In the video they filmed, people can be seen getting out of the car and collecting what the children had left behind. The activists assert that the children had nothing on them except the pails.