Israeli probe into deadly holy site stampede opens hearings

JERUSALEM – An Israeli government commission investigating a deadly accident at a Jewish pilgrimage site in April held its first day of hearings Sunday, almost four months after the stampede at Mount Meron left 45 people dead.

The incident that took –place on 29th April at the Jewish festival in northern Israel was the deadliest civilian disaster in the country’s history. Around 100,000 worshippers, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended festivities despite coronavirus regulations limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people, and in spite of longstanding warnings about the safety of the site.

Hundreds of people bottlenecked in a narrow passageway descending the mountain, and due to a slippery slope which all of sudden resulted human avalanche which killed 45 people and injured at least 150.

In June, the Israeli government approved the formation of an independent state commission of inquiry to investigate safety shortcomings at the Lag Baomer celebrations at Mount Meron.

The panel was headed by former Supreme Court justice Miriam Naor, she began proceedings with testimony from Northern District police chief Shimon Lavi, the officer who was in charge of managing the event.

Lavi said the Mount Meron festivities are the Israel Police’s most significant annual event, requiring extensive resources, planning and preparation. He said that out of safety concerns “there has been no limitation on attendance at Meron, that’s how it has been done for the last 30 years.” Any attempt to limit entry and put up barricades could result in “bottlenecks and much greater disasters,” he said.

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