Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that the disaster at Mount Meron, where at least 45 people were crushed to death, would be thoroughly investigated to determine how the incident occurred and to prevent it from happening again.
About 150 were injured among the throngs celebrating the Lag Ba’omer holiday at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Israel’s north.
“The Mount Meron disaster is one of the worst that has befallen the State of Israel,” he said at a visit to the scene of the disaster Friday. “We will prepare for a thorough, serious and in-depth investigation to ensure that such a disaster is not repeated.”
The prime minister and police were met with jeers from the Hasidic Jews who remained at the site.
Netanyahu said he wished to declare Sunday a day of national mourning. “Let’s all come join with the families in their grief and pray for the well-being of the injured.” The government has since approved Netanyahu's request. On Sunday, flags will be raised at half-mast at public buildings, military bases and Israeli embassies and consulates abroad.
Touring the scene along with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, the prime minister said, “the police and rescue and security services carried out a rapid rescue operation here, and we are very grateful to them. They have prevented a much larger disaster.”
The disaster occurred during a bonfire lighting by the Toldos Aharon Hasidic sect at a time when the crowd in the area numbered about 100,000. Many eyewitnesses described dangerous levels of overcrowding, and helplessness on the part of the police.
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Many of the victims have not yet been identified, Netanyahu noted. “A large portion of the dead have still not been identified, and I would ask that rumors not be spread on social media, because this is heartbreaking for the families. Let the authorities do their job,” the prime minister said.
Ohana, who oversees the police, said, “It’s clear that there will need to be an independent examination from all its aspects of the planning, preparations, responsibility, infrastructure and so forth for the event.” He added, “At this stage, the security and rescue forces are focusing their effort on helping identify the victims, informing the families, finding those who cannot be contacted and returning members of the public home.”
Speaking on Friday morning, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said he would hold consultations, and over the next several days announce how the investigation of the event will be handled. In two prior reports, the State Comptroller’s Office was critical of the state of the infrastructure at Mount Meron, including access roads and paths, as well as the preparedness of emergency services at holy sites, including around the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
On Friday morning, the police asked the relatives of those still missing in the disaster to assist in the identification of their loved ones at the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv. They were asked to provide photos, ID numbers, cell phone numbers, physical features such as scars and birthmarks and dental X-rays.