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Wheelchair-bound Israeli army veteran dies after setting himself on fire at welfare protest

JERUSALEM - A second Israeli who set himself on fire in protest at economic difficulties has died of his injuries, the hospital treating him said on Wednesday.

Akiva Mafi, a 45-year-old wheelchair-bound army veteran, doused his body in gasoline and lit it at a bus station on July 22, after what friends described as a debilitating battle for welfare benefits.

He was the second such fatality after Moshe Silman, a debt-ridden member of a grassroots movement to lower the cost of living in Israel, self-immolated during a July 14 demonstration in Tel Aviv and died a week later.

Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

An Israeli activist holds placard during a rally in memory of Moshe Silman in Tel Aviv on July 21. Silman died from injuries he suffered after he set himself alight at a demonstration seeking economic reform.

Silman, 57, left a note accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative government of "taking from the poor and giving to the rich." Local media later reported similar suicide bids among others suffering economic hardship.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Mafi had discussed suicide to his family members in the past and talked about "doing what Silman did" in the days before he set himself alight, his brother said.

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Shlomo Mafi also said his brother lamented the "impossible bureaucracy" he faced at the defense ministry and with social welfare authorities, the Post reported.

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Another man attempted to light himself on fire in Jerusalem on Tuesday but a policeman tackled him before he lit the flammable liquid he had poured on himself, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Speaking on Israeli television after his cabinet approved a controversial new package of tax increases and spending cuts on Tuesday, Netanyahu described the self-immolations as tragic but cautioned against "drawing conclusions about the overall populace," which he argued had been spared deeper fiscal crises.

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NBC News staff and Reuters contributed to this report.

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