Israeli state watchdog to investigate religious festival stampede

WION Web Team
Jerusalem Published: May 03, 2021, 06:04 PM(IST)

Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, 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, at Mount Meron, Israel Photograph:( Reuters )

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Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for a Lag BaOmer festival at Mount Meron in northern Israel despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people and longstanding warnings about the safety of such gatherings

Israel's governmental watchdog agency said Monday it would launch an investigation into the deadly stampede at a religious festival over the weekend that left 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews dead.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said his office, which audits the government, would look into the circumstances surrounding the event at Mount Meron in the Galilee region.

"I wish to announce today that I intend to open a special audit that will investigate the circumstances that led to this tragedy," he told reporters.

Englman said his report would focus on the actions of decision makers, police and rescuers in the field.

It was not immediately clear whether his announcement would end calls for an independent investigation.

Englman is seen as close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who relies on the political support of ultra-Orthodox parties and whose government has come under fire for allowing the mass gathering. Englman said he has had no contact with Netanyahu recently.

Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for a Lag BaOmer festival at Mount Meron in northern Israel despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people and longstanding warnings about the safety of such gatherings.

The state comptroller's office, under one of Englman's predecessors, issued a pair of reports in 2008 and 2011 warning that the conditions at Mount Meron were dangerous.

Early Friday, thousands of people leaving one area of the site funneled through a narrow passageway descending the mountain. A slick slope caused people to slip and fall, resulting in a human avalanche that killed 45 people and and injured at least 150.

The tragedy brought renewed attention to Israel's ultra-Orthodox community, where many have flouted coronavirus restrictions over the past year and some leaders refuse to acknowledge the authority of the state.

According to Israeli reports, ultra-Orthodox leaders put heavy pressure on the government to allow last week's celebration to take place without any restrictions.

(With inputs from agencies)

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