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Family denies Hebron teen killed by Israel was carrying toy gun

Dec. 13, 2012 11:01 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 15, 2012 9:00 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Relatives and a Palestinian human rights group on Thursday disputed Israel's claim that a Palestinian teenager killed in Hebron was carrying a toy gun.

An Israeli border guard shot dead Muhammad al-Salaymeh on Wednesday, his 17th birthday.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told Ma'an on Thursday that he had nothing to add to initial findings immediately after the shooting that Muhammad pointed a fake gun at forces at a checkpoint in the southern West Bank city.

An investigation by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights found that Muhammad was on his way home from buying a birthday cake when he arrived at the checkpoint.

PCHR found that another child, who had a plastic pistol, was being detained by troops. When Muhammad reached the checkpoint he was shot by a border guard at close range, killing him immediately, PCHR said.

The teen's uncle, also named Muhammad Salaymeh, said the Israeli police's version of events did not ring true.

"We live in a place which is like a military base for Israeli forces; dozens of soldiers are spread out over the area, checkpoints and cameras are everywhere to watch our movements," he told Ma'an.

"Every resident knows exactly the difficulties anyone will have for just carrying a black plastic bag, we're being searched and watched constantly … Muhammad lived in this area and was aware that any unusual movement will put him in trouble."

His uncle continued: "The boy went to the store to buy his gift in order to celebrate his 17th birthday with his mother, father and siblings. Why would he pull out a weapon and point it at soldiers? "

"Plastic guns are for toys for children under the age of 10, why would Muhammad hold a fake gun?"

Israeli forces kept al-Salaymah's body for over two hours before handing him over the Palestine Red Crescent Society, releasing the body on condition the teenager was not buried in the al-Raas cemetery near the family home, relatives and PCHR said.

Al-Salaymah was laid to rest Thursday in a cemetery in Limboa in northern Hebron.

Sports hero

Meanwhile, Muhammad's colleagues from his sporting career expressed grief at losing the talented teenager.

"The Palestinian sporting community lost a promising hero," Abdul Arim al-Jaabari, director of the Palestinian union for wrestling, told Ma'an.

Al-Salaymah represented Palestine in international wrestling tournaments and had won gold and silver medals, al-Jaabari said.

He had also studied to with the Palestinian Circus School for nearly two years, learning to perform juggling, acrobatics and the human pyramid, the school's manager Shadi Zmorrod told Ma'an.

"He was completely in love with the circus .. every Saturday he was the first student waiting for the trainers to arrive," Zmorrod said.

"Muhammad was super kind, polite, a very gentle little person. He was was totally different to other students who come from Hebron's Old City where they frequently come across violence -- that is what shocked us (about his death.)"

Just days ago Muhammad was pestering Zmorrod to set up a circus event for young children in Hebron's Old City, he said.

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