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Gantz asks AG for position on forming state commission into Meron disaster

Blue and White chief says only such a panel will be able to manage ‘all aspects of investigation into disaster’ and prevent future incidents

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Israeli flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Mount Meron crush victims, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Mount Meron crush victims, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amid growing questions over the lack of state oversight at the Mount Meron compound where 45 people were crushed to death late last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz appealed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday to give his legal opinion on the feasibility of forming a state commission of inquiry under the transitional government.

“There is an urgency in forming a committee quickly so that it can carry out a preliminary probe while information is readily available,” Gantz wrote in a letter to Mandelblit.

He said that “only a state commission will be able to manage all aspects of an investigation into the disaster.”

Israel was observing a national day of mourning on Sunday for the victims of the disaster, who ranged in age from 9 to 65. Sixteen of over 150 people initially hospitalized remained in the hospital Sunday evening.

Israelis light candles for the 45 victims who were killed in a crush at Mount Meron during the Lag B’Omer celebrations, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. May 2, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The tragedy occurred early Friday, as thousands streamed through a narrow walkway that was covered with metal flooring and may have been wet, causing some people to fall underfoot during the rush for the exit. Some apparently fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

A state commission of inquiry into the disaster “will not bring families back their loved ones or help their pain, but it can prevent such a disaster from happening in the future,” Gantz said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a “thorough” investigation, but he has not responded to the calls for a state commission of inquiry that could require testimony from the political echelon and could issue conclusions and recommendations regarding any political culpability.

According to Channel 12 news, he is expected to oppose a state commission of inquiry, fearing its political consequences.

Earlier Sunday, the Retired Police Commissioners and Major General’s Forum sent a letter to Netanyahu saying that only a thorough investigation examining the role of all bodies involved in organizing the annual event can provide sufficient input to prevent another disaster in the future.

“The Mount Meron incident is not the sole responsibility of the Israel Police,” wrote the forum, which is led by ex-Israel Police chief Moshe Karadi.

The letter came as the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department began its own probe of the force’s role in the planning and securing of the festival attended by some 100,000 people, principally from the ultra-Orthodox community. IIDP officers reportedly toured the site on Sunday.

The Israel Police has also launched an investigation.

Calls for a state inquiry come amid criticism of the government for not taking full control over the Meron site.

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