An Israeli human rights group accused the army on Thursday of illegally detaining a 5-year-old Palestinian boy for throwing a stone in a flashpoint city in the West Bank.
Video footage taken by the group B'Tselem of Tuesday's incident showed Wadi Maswadeh crying as he was surrounded by soldiers on a street in Hebron. He was then made to board a military jeep accompanied by a Palestinian adult.
The images, aired on Israeli media, looked likely to stoke debate about policy in the West Bank, where the army guards Jewish settlers. There is often friction with Palestinians, who have limited self-government but have been frustrated in their hopes of gaining statehood.
B'Tselem said troops took Maswadeh home, picking up his father and holding them both for another half-hour, during which the father was bound and blindfolded. The two were then handed over to Palestinian police, who questioned and released them.
In a later television interview, Maswadeh admitted throwing a stone, saying he had aimed at a dog but hit a car instead.
B'Tselem said Maswadeh's handling by the troops was illegal as the age of criminal responsibility in Israel and its West Bank jurisdiction is 12.
"The security forces are not allowed to arrest or detain children under that age, even when they are suspected of having committed criminal offenses, and the authorities must deal with the law-breaking in other ways," said group director Jessica Montell.
In a statement, the army said Maswadeh's stone-throwing had endangered passers-by. More than 150 Israelis were hurt in similar West Bank incidents between January and May, it said.
"Soldiers intervened on the spot and accompanied the minor to his parents. From there he was passed on to the care of the Palestinian Security Forces, all the while accompanied by his parents. The child was not arrested and no charges were filed," the statement said.
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Trevelyan