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Jerusalem bus driver death dubbed suicide by Israel sparks rage among Palestinians

Clashes and strikes after Jerusalem bus driver found hanged, as Israel again imposes restrictions on al-Aqsa access for second day running
The West Jerusalem bus depot where Youssef al-Ramouni's body was discovered on Sunday night (Twitter / @diaaps)

The death of a Jerusalem bus driver has further ignited tensions in the city, leading to violent clashes there and in the West Bank on Monday morning.

The body of Youssef al-Ramouni, a 32-year-old father of two, was discovered hanging by a thin cord in a bus parked at a West Jerusalem depot late on Sunday night.

Ramouni had been due to begin a shift driving a bus operated by the Egged company when, according to relatives, he was beaten by six settlers before being strangled with a metal wire.

Unverified and graphic images circulating on social media after the discovery of the body apparently show severe bruising on Ramouni’s back and arms.

Commenting on the death, a Hamas spokesperson said on Monday that "the crime of Ramouni's execution reflects the racism of the occupation and its settlers - the response must be to escalate the resistance in all its forms."

Though many Palestinian news site are reporting the death as a murder, Israeli police said on Monday morning that Ramouni had committed suicide.

According to Jerusalem District Police, there were no signs of foul play in the case, and preliminary investigations showed no signs of violence on his body.

But Ramouni’s relatives and colleagues dispute that he took his own life.

"His life was good and he had no enemies," a spokesperson for the family told Palestinian news agency Maan on Monday, claiming instead that Ramouni had been killed in revenge for the stabbing on Sunday of a 32-year-old Jewish Israeli man. Fellow Palestinian bus drivers have also spoken out in outrage, saying that they have seen a growing number of threats issued against them by passengers in recent months.

Israeli police say Youssef al-Ramouni committed suicide, while relatives say he was murdered (Twitter / @bilalboukayli)

Many commenters on social media have compared Ramouni’s death to that of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 17-year old Palestinian who died in July after being burned alive by Jewish settlers, in a revenge attack for the kidnap and murder of three teenaged settlers in June.

Khdeir’s murder set alight tensions in the West Bank and Arab Israeli towns, causing days of serious rioting.

Rockets were also fired from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel in the wake of the killing, prompting Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge, a 51-day military onslaught on the coastal enclave.

By the time a ceasefire was reached on 27 August, some 2,100 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians, and 72 Israelis, 66 of them soldiers, were dead.

Three Israelis, two of them minors, confessed to kidnapping and murdering Khdeir, in a crime dubbed “racist [and] nationalist” by Israeli police.

Strikes and clashes spread to West Bank

In the wake of the suspicious death, an association of Arab bus drivers announced a strike on Monday, and said workers in other sectors would also not attend work in protest at what they see as the violent killing.

Al-Eizariya, an East Jerusalem neighbourhood some two kilometres north-east of Ramouni’s birthplace in Abu Dis, also announced a general strike on Monday in mourning for the local resident.

Palestinian protesters burned tyres and blocked roads in the district, while Israeli police deployed in large numbers in the neighbouring district of Abu Dis, which is cut off from the West Bank by Israel’s separation barrier.

In the West Bank, a Jeep belonging to Israeli forces was overturned in Bil’in. Israeli forces responded by firing live ammunition encased in rubber, according to Palestinian news site Palestine Today.

Israeli forces also arrested at least 16 Palestinians overnight, as clashes spread throughout the West Bank.

The clashes come as restrictions were again imposed on the holy site of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.

Israeli police on Monday morning prevented all women from entering the mosque for the second day in a row, and arrested several who attempted to access the site.

Women prevented from entering al-Aqsa join an angry march outside the compound (Facebook / PalInfo)

Israeli authorities on Friday dropped age restrictions for entry to the al-Aqsa compound, which had previously seen men under the age of 40 or 50 prevented from praying at the site, considered the third holiest location in the Islamic tradition but also seen as holy by Jews.

Pressure had been mounting in Jerusalem after Israeli authorities closed the site for several hours in late October after the shooting of a right-wing Israeli activist, who advocated for Jews to be allowed to pray at the site, known as Temple Mount for the belief that it once housed two ancient temples.

Israeli politicians eased restrictions on Palestinian access to the site after a high-profile meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives of key Israeli ally Jordan last week.

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