The driver, 32-year-old Youssef al-Ramouni, was found dead at the start of the route he was supposed to have driven late on Sunday, in an area of Jerusalem close to Jewish settlements and Palestinian neighborhoods.
Israeli police said the evidence suggested al-Ramouni had committed suicide, but rumors quickly spread in the Palestinian media that he had been killed by Jewish assailants, fueling tension and violence in the divided city.
“The bus driver committed suicide, there is no other indication other than it was a suicide case,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
However, al-Ramouni’s brother, Louy, told Reuters there was no way his brother, the father of two young children, would have killed himself and said there were marks on his body that suggested he had been killed.
“I saw the body last night and I saw bruises and marks that he was beaten up,” he said.
“There were marks of fingers on the body and also on his back there was a bruise as if he was hit by a hard object. … Youssef cannot commit suicide, it is not possible, he is leading a good and happy life with his wife and his family,” he added.
Israeli police said an autopsy would be carried out to determine the cause of death. Al-Ramouni’s family has requested that a Palestinian pathologist be present, but it was not clear if that would be allowed.
The death comes at a time of heightened tension across Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, where there have been almost daily clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in the predominantly Arab, eastern side of the city.
Over the past month, five Israelis and a foreign visitor have been killed by Palestinians, either run over in vehicle-based attacks or stabbed. About a dozen Palestinians have been killed, including those accused of carrying out the attacks.
Residents trace the violence in Jerusalem back to July, when a Palestinian teenager was burned to death by Jewish assailants, a revenge attack for the abduction and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Palestinian militants in the West Bank. Tensions have further been fueled by the seven-week war in Gaza and by a dispute over Jerusalem’s holiest site.