Israel launches official probe into stampede which killed 45 Orthodox Jews at Lag Baomer festival
- Israel has approved inquiry into a deadly disaster at Jewish holy site in April
- Naftali Bennett said commission would investigate major safety shortcomings
- The incident on April 29 at Lag Baomer celebrations left 45 people dead
Israel’s government has approved the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry into a deadly disaster at a Jewish holy site in April that left 45 people dead.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the commission would investigate major safety shortcomings that led to a deadly stampede at Lag Baomer celebrations on Mount Meron.
It will be headed by a current or former senior judge, and its members selected by the country’s chief Supreme Court justice.
Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival in northern Israel despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people, and longstanding warnings about the safety of such gatherings.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a memorial ceremony for soldiers who fell in the 2014 war with Gaza, at the Hall of Remembrance of Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem June 20
Rescue and medical personnel are seen next to covered dead bodies on Mount Meron where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, April 30
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, flanked by Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, chairs the first weekly cabinet meeting of the new government in Jerusalem, Sunday, June 20
The state comptroller’s office had previously issued a pair of reports in 2008 and 2011 warning that the conditions at Mount Meron were dangerous.
Hundreds of people funnelled through a narrow passageway descending the mountain’s holy site during the festival.
A slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall, precipitating a human avalanche that killed 45 people and injured at least 150.
The police launched an investigation into the disaster, but to date have yet to make any arrests.
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Israeli Defense minister Benny Gantz and leader of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu attend a memorial ceremony for Israeli soldiers who fell in battle of 2014 Gaza War, ‘Operation Protective Edge’, at the Hall of Remembrance of Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, Israel,June 20
The government said the commission would investigate the officials “who made the decisions that led to approving the event and determining the framework that was approved and its terms”.
Powerful ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials to lift attendance restrictions at the religious festival.
Experts had long warned the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds that flock there during the springtime holiday, and that existing infrastructure was a safety risk.
Mr Netanyahu’s political allies, including ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, walked out on a Knesset committee hearing that discussed forming an investigation last month.
Families of the mostly ultra-Orthodox victims of the disaster had called on Mr Netanyahu to take action and form an independent state commission to investigate the incident.
Rescue workers carry a dead body into an ambulance after dozens were killed in crush at a religious festival in Mount Meron on April 30, in Meron, Israel
Mr Bennett said at the start of his newly formed government’s first Cabinet meeting that “the responsibility is on our shoulders to learn the lessons to prevent the disaster to come”.
“The commission cannot bring back those who died, but the government can do everything to prevent an unnecessary loss in the future,” he said.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz, one of the ministers who advanced the motion to launch the commission, said in a statement: “We must make sure that a tragedy of this nature never repeats itself. The taskforce’s purpose is, above anything else, to save human life.”
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