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The death of a Palestinian boy has been used to spread false claims online, after social media users, including the State of Israel, denied the boy had died and instead claimed he was a doll.

Four-year-old Omar Bilal al-Banna was killed on October 11 following an Israeli air strike on Zeitoun, east of Gaza City.

The young boy had been playing outside with his older brother when the strike hit their neighbour’s house, causing rubble to fall on Omar, the BBC confirmed after watching footage where his brother described the attack.

However, posts circulating on social media following the strike later claimed the four-year-old’s death was a lie.

According to the BBC, a pro-Israeli account on X, shared a video of a man in a grey shirt holding Omar’s body, wrapped in a white blanket, and claimed the boy wasn’t a real person.

“Hamas is desperate!” the caption read, adding the militant group had “released a video showing a dead Palestinian baby. But wait for the catch. It’s not a real baby; it’s a doll”.

The post claimed the video “exposes how hard the lying and slanderous propaganda arm of Hamas and the Palestinians works”.

The video, along with a still of the footage showing Omar’s face, was also shared by the State of Israel’s official account on X.

“Hamas accidentally posted a video of a doll (yes a doll) suggesting that it was a part of casualties caused by an IDF [Israel Defense Forces] attack,” it wrote, according to the BBC.

BBC disinformation and social media correspondent Marianna Spring said the false claims around Omar’s death, as well as another boy in a similar case, is “emblematic of how the information war is playing out right now on social media” amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.

As part of an investigating into Omar’s death, Ms Spring confirmed the boy had died with a photographer who filmed the original video, as well as another photojournalist who was in Gaza at the time and took a photograph of the same man holding the same child, wrapped in the white sheet.

“I chatted quite extensively to both of these photojournalists and they provided me with more details to corroborate the photo had been taken outside the morgue of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City,” she told BBC’s podcast The Conflict: Israel-Gaza.

“They gave me infromaiton about the man in the t-shirt who turned out to be one of the relatives of Omar.”

Ms Spring said one reason why people may have thought Omar was a doll, was the colour of his skin. However, one of the photojournalists told her several children killed in air strikes in Gaza had been photographed with similar pale skin.

Ms Spring also confirmed Omar’s death with his mother, Yasmeen, who said lies about the “killing of children and innocent people are untrue and fake”.

“They have no right to say he is a doll,” Yasmeen said. “They [the Israeli government] are lying and evading their crimes and massacres.”

Disinformation battle amid Israel-Hamas war

Ms Spring said the disinformation spreading in the weeks following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel has become “more sinister”, often targeting individual cases.

“Disinformation is at its most effective when it’s very emotive, when it makes us react,” she told the podcast.

In a strikingly similar case, a four-year-old boy’s death in Israel has also been denied on social media.

At the time of their death, Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, shared a post on social media, writing the entire family has been “murdered in cold blood”, alongside a photo of the family.

“Look at their happy faces. Their love. All of them murdered by Palestinian terrorists at Nir-oz kibbutz. Just because they’re Jews,” he wrote.

However, some people online denied the deaths, suggesting Omer was a “paid actor” because Hamas “didn’t kill kids”.

A friend of the family, from Sydney, told the BBC this kind of online disinformation was “evil and cruel”.

“To deal with their death is hard enough, and all these comments make it even worse.”

The BBC said spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in the UK did not comment directly on the social media posts and instead accused the BBC of spreading misinformation.

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By Rahul

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