A 5-year-old boy who had been trapped 32 meters underground in a well in Morocco for four days was found dead on Saturday following a lengthy rescue attempt that had captivated the Arab world.
In an official statement carried by state television, Morocco's King Mohamed VI offered his condolences to the parents of the boy, identified as Rayan, as the meticulous relief operation came to a heart-wrenching end.
Relentless digging by bulldozers parallel to the well reached the full depth of 32 meters before rescuers embarked on a horizontal dig to reach the boy.
In the last stretch, which took longer than expected, rescuers resorted to manual digging in fear of possible landslides that would put Rayan's life at risk. They also inserted pipes as a shelter from rock collapses, television footage showed.
After the pathway leading to Rayan was cleared, paramedics rushed to the tunnel to attend to him. His parents stood by anxiously, with security personnel forming a barrier in front of a crowd of onlookers as the sound of prayers blared through a loudspeaker.
The security guards then formed a cordon around an ambulance as Rayan's body was moved out on a stretcher, with his mother appearing to be weeping.
Rayan reportedly fell through a narrow opening of the well while playing in the village of Ighran in Morocco's Chefchaouen province on Tuesday evening.
A "Save Rayan" Arabic hashtag trended in several Arab countries, including in neighboring Algeria as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan as thousands of users took to social media to offer their prayers.
"I prayed to God and begged him to get him out of the well alive and safe. Please God, ease my pain. I hope the authorities and rescuers manage to save my son," Rayan's mother, Wassima Kharchich, told France24 earlier on Saturday.
Many likened his story to that of Prophet Yunis, commonly referred to as Jonah in the Bible, who was swallowed up by a whale for three days before the giant fish spat him out.
"Please God, protect him just like you protected Yunis in the belly of the whale," read a caption on a widely shared drawing of a boy playing with toys while being trapped in a deep well.
Several Moroccan media outlets livestreamed the rescue operation to hundreds of thousands of viewers, leading to an outpouring of sympathy. A CCTV camera lowered into the well to track Rayan showed him alive on Thursday, albeit he appeared to be suffering from head injuries. Oxygen, food and water were also lowered into the well.