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Live updates (closed)Israel's worst peacetime disaster

12 of 45 Meron victims laid to rest before Shabbat; PM vows full inquiry

Until last minute, health officials sought to limit number of attendees at Lag B’Omer event but faced push back by MKs who wanted largely Haredi crowd to revel as in years past

  • Hundreds of Haredim at a funeral in Jerusalem for one of the victims of the Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Hundreds of Haredim at a funeral in Jerusalem for one of the victims of the Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • In a sign of mourning for one who lost a relative, a man cuts the shirt of the four-year-old son of Yehuda Leib Rubin who died in Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    In a sign of mourning for one who lost a relative, a man cuts the shirt of the four-year-old son of Yehuda Leib Rubin who died in Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Hundreds attend the Jerusalem funeral of David Krauss in Jerusalem, one of the victims of the Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Hundreds attend the Jerusalem funeral of David Krauss in Jerusalem, one of the victims of the Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Israeli rescue forces and police near a mass fatality scene during a gathering marking the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
    Israeli rescue forces and police near a mass fatality scene during a gathering marking the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
  • Israeli rescue forces and police at a mass fatality scene during a gathering for the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
    Israeli rescue forces and police at a mass fatality scene during a gathering for the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
  • Bodybags at the scene of the Mount Meron disaster, April 30, 2021 (Screenshot)
    Bodybags at the scene of the Mount Meron disaster, April 30, 2021 (Screenshot)
  • Crowd in the moments before the Mt Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Screen grab)
    Crowd in the moments before the Mt Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Screen grab)
  • Flowers on a bench outside the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv, where victims of Mount Meron crush were brought to be identified, April 30, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Flowers on a bench outside the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv, where victims of Mount Meron crush were brought to be identified, April 30, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • A photo taken on April 30, 2021 following a deadly crush in Meron shows plastic bags with shoes and hats belonging to people who were attending a religious gathering overnight in the northern Israeli town near the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag BaOmer holiday. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
    A photo taken on April 30, 2021 following a deadly crush in Meron shows plastic bags with shoes and hats belonging to people who were attending a religious gathering overnight in the northern Israeli town near the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag BaOmer holiday. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
  • Israeli rescue forces and police on a metal-floored walkway hours after a mass fatality event during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
    Israeli rescue forces and police on a metal-floored walkway hours after a mass fatality event during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
  • A hat at the scene of a deadly crush during the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)
    A hat at the scene of a deadly crush during the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Friday’s events as they happened.

Police overseeing evacuation of Mt. Meron, with death toll at 38

Huge crowds are evacuating the Lag B’Omer pilgrimage event at Mt. Meron in the Upper Galilee after dozens of people were killed, and many more injured, in an apparent stampede after midnight Thursday-Friday.

The current death toll is 38, but the number is not final.

Police are overseeing the evacuation, as ambulances and helicopters are still ferrying the injured to hospitals.

Incident began at around 1 a.m., at bonfire lighting ceremony

The tragedy began at around 1 am on Friday, emergency services say.

A bonfire lighting ceremony for Toldot Aharon hasidim was being held at the pilgrimage area, close to the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, amid huge, densely packed crowds, first reports indicate.

The overcrowding led to some people falling, and other people falling over them, precipitating a stampede and fatal crushing, according to a Channel 12 news report.

Warning: Graphic footage. The video below shows the evacuation of some of the injured.

‘We don’t know exactly what happened, but the result is unthinkable’

A Zaka emergency rescue officer (pictured below), speaking at the service’s clinic at the site, tells Channel 12 news that rescue staff are working with Israel police to evacuate bodies from the scene of the disaster. “I’ve just come back from there,” he says.

He says access to the scene is being complicated by the presence of large crowds, including children.

A Zaka emergency rescue official describes the tragecy at Mt Meron (Channel 12 screenshot)

He says Zaka is trying to gather all the children who have become separated from their parents at the Zaka facility, and bring them together.

“We are trying to locate people who are believed to be missing… to organize a register of names.”

Mobile telephones are not working, he says, and the situation is chaotic.

“There are more than 30 children here right now… whose mothers and fathers aren’t answering the phone.”

“Without getting graphic,” he says, “I’ve been with Zaka for decades. I’ve never seen anything like this… We don’t know exactly what happened, but the result is unthinkable.”

He says all the injured have been evacuated from the site.

Video shows how densely the crowds were packed

Video from the night’s events gives an insight into how vast the crowds were, and how closely packed, at the Mt Meron event.

 

Death toll rises above 40; ‘process of identification’ starting

The death toll is above 40, with more than 100 injured, emergency services say.

Those of the injured who need hospitalization have all been evacuated from the scene, Shabtai Garbatchik, the police spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox community says.

He says “the process of identification” has now begun.

Crowds in the moments around the Mt Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

The authorities are focused on helping the crowds leave the site and make their way home. There were some 50,000 at the pilgrimage site, Channel 12 reports; “now there are still thousands.”

Slippery walkway caused falls during rush for exit

A slippery walkway was at least partially to blame for injuries in the crowd in Meron, Channel 12 reports.

Some 20,000 people streamed down a narrow walkway between two walls during the event. On the ground was slick metal flooring, which caused some people to fall underfoot during the rush for the exit.

The sloped walkway where the Mt Meron tragedy unfolded, seen a few hours later, April 30, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Footage from the walkway shows shoes, hats, baby strollers, smashed eyeglasses and water bottles strewn on the ground. Metal railings were torn from the ground.

Smashed glasses and a hat at the scene of the Mt Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Cell phone outages hamper rescue efforts

Poor cell phone reception further complicates rescue efforts and attempts to locate people in Meron.

Authorities say heavy use of cell phone networks in the area is causing poor service.

First responders are attempting to reunite dozens of children with their parents and worried Israelis around the country struggle to make contact with family members who were in Meron.

Police say the 101 emergency services number is available for information.

Several hospitals open hotlines for people to search for family and friends who may have been injured; Galilee: 04-9850505, Ziv: 04-6828838 and Poriya: 04-6652211.

‘Small children’ among the casualties, rescue service says

Eli Beer, head of the Hatzalah rescue services organization, says children were trampled during the stampede.

“Unfortunately, we found small children trampled there, and we performed CPR on children. We were able to save some of them. We need to wake up. I’m appalled at the amount of people who were allowed in,” Beer says.

Survivor describes ‘screams, chaos’ while he was trapped underfoot

One survivor says from a hospital bed that he slipped on a walkway before being trampled. He was trapped under the crowd for some 10 minutes before first responders cleared the crowd and began treating him, he says.

“I felt someone push me, he just wanted to move, he punched me. I felt that I couldn’t breathe,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster. “No one knew what to do.”

“It started with very heavy crowding. There were a lot of people on top of me. I was lying on someone else who wasn’t breathing. There were screams, chaos. I saw children underneath me. The only thing going through my mind was that I didn’t want my child to be an orphan.”

Hundreds face off with police, refuse to evacuate

Hundreds of worshipers face off with police, demand entrance to a holy site and refuse to comply with evacuation orders in Meron.

Police are not enforcing the evacuation in the face of the crowds, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The crowd opposing the police is gathered only meters from the scene of the deadly stampede, the report says.

Congregants harass journalists on the scene and refuse to answer questions about the evacuation.

One passerby dismisses the tragedy, saying, “It doesn’t matter.”

“They blocking us for no reason. I want to pray. Look what they’re doing to Jews,” he says.

Footage from the scene shows ultra-Orthodox men dancing and singing after the sun comes up on Friday morning.

Tens of thousands of others comply with the evacuation orders and stream away from the site to lines of waiting buses.

Channel 13 reports a shortage of transportation, forcing some people to remain on the scene.

Death toll climbs to 44

The death toll in the Mt. Meron tragedy climbs to 44, according to Hebrew media reports.

Over 100 are injured, some critically.

The Hatzalah emergency services group says the casualties include “small children.”

Thousands of people remain on the scene, with hundreds seeking to continue holiday prayers and refusing police evacuation orders.

Police video shows frantic effort to evacuate casualties

Israel Police releases a video showing the frantic effort to evacuate casualties from Mt. Meron.

Emergency services group says it treated 150 wounded

The Magen David Adom emergency services group says it treated 150 injured people at Mt. Meron.

Six were in critical condition, 18 in serious condition, eight moderately hurt and 80 lightly injured, the group says.

The group says it left some casualties on the scene that were deemed not possible to save.

Some Mt. Meron worshipers say police blocked exit

Some congregants at Mt. Meron say police blocked an exit during severe overcrowding that led to at least 44 deaths.

It wasn’t immediately clear why police may have prevented some people from leaving the scene, which would have lessened pressure on the packed crowd, but officers were apparently unaware of the severity of the situation and trying to keep some areas clear of congregants.

Channel 12 broadcasts footage of tightly packed worshipers arguing with police at some point during the night.

“We were walking out, everything was flowing, suddenly it stopped,” a survivor identified as Zohar tells Channel 12. “Everyone was pressed up against each other and we did not understand why. I lifted up my head and I saw police blocking the entrance, I shouted to them ‘people are dying here.'”

Emergency services group says many at Mt. Meron unaware of tragedy’s extent

The spokesperson for the Zaka emergency services group says many people at Mt. Meron still do not understand the magnitude of the event there.

“I left the scene to bring a drink, and people were praying. They’re cut off. They don’t understand the size of the tragedy. They don’t understand there there are dozens dead, an incomprehensible amount,” says Motti Bokchin.

Some congregants are seen in live news feeds at Mt. Meron singing and dancing after the sunrise on Friday morning.

Widespread failures in cell phone service due to overload have hampered communication in the area.

Emergency services: Phones of the Meron dead still ringing with calls from ‘Mom’

A spokesperson for the Zaka emergency services group says the cellphones of the deceased in the Meron disaster are ringing continuously with calls from frantic loved ones.

“The phones of the dead don’t stop ringing and we see [the calls are from] ‘mom’ and ‘my dear wife,'” Motti Bokchin tells Army Radio.

“It’s unfathomable,” he adds.

EU ambassador sends condolences to families of Meron victims

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret extends his “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims in the Meron tragedy.

Police commander says he bears responsibility for Meron disaster, probe ongoing

The police force’s Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi, who oversaw the security arrangements at Meron, says he takes responsibility for the disaster that killed 44 people.

“I bear overall responsibility, for better or worse, and am ready for any investigation,” he tells reporters following the deadly stampede.

But he stresses that the cause of the disaster is still unclear. Some eyewitnesses have accused police of blocking a key exit.

There is an ongoing “complicated effort to gather evidence to reach the truth,” he says.

He also says that police officers saved lives during the stampede, pushing through the crowds to rescue those trapped.

Ministry: Police struggling to clear roads around Meron, holding up evacuation

The Transportation Ministry says hundreds of empty buses dispatched to Meron to evacuate the remaining worshipers from the Galilee pilgrimage site are unable to reach the area.

Police are struggling to clear the roads around Meron, the ministry says.

Emergency service: Families of dead have yet to be notified

Hours after the deadly stampede at Meron, the families of the deceased have yet to be notified amid a complicated effort to identify the victims, a spokesperson for the Zaka emergency service says, according to Channel 12.

Israelis are being encouraged not to publicize information about the victims on social media until the families receive official word on the fate of their relatives.

US national security adviser laments ‘terrible tragedy’ at Meron

In a tweet, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says: “Our hearts go out to the people of Israel tonight following the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron.”

He sends condolences to the families of the victims and well-wishes to those injured.

Children among dead and seriously hurt in Meron stampede — report

Army Radio reports that children are among the 44 dead in the stampede at Meron.

The radio report also says that two children hospitalized in serious condition have yet to be identified.

British Jewish umbrella group ‘devastated’ by Meron disaster

The Board of Deputies of British Jews says it’s “devastated” by the deadly stampede in Meron.

“We are devastated at the news that a celebration for the festival of Lag B’Omer has led to such a tragic loss of life. Lag B’Omer traditionally celebrates the cessation of death of religious students from a terrible plague in Roman times. It is a bitter irony that the day will now become partly known as a day of mourning for the families affected,” says its president, Marie van der Zyl, in a statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and with the families of the deceased.”

Israelis search desperately for missing relatives after Meron disaster

Some Israelis are taking to the radio to publicize information on their missing relatives following the deadly Meron stampede.

One of those missing is Yonatan Chevroni, whose phone was found at 4 a.m. at the site of the disaster.

The local hospitals have opened special hotlines following the crisis. The Ziv Medical Center number is 1255161; Poriya Medical Center: 1255162; Rambam Medical Center: 1255144.

Hats, glasses, shoes scattered at site of Meron stampede

Harrowing photos from the scene of the Meron disaster show hats, shoes and glasses left behind in the deadly melee.

A hat at the scene of a deadly stampede during the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)
A photo taken on April 30, 2021 following a stampede in Meron shows plastic bags with shoes and hats belonging to people who were attending a religious gathering overnight in the northern Israeli town near the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag B’Omer holiday (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
A photo taken on April 30, 2021 following a stampede in Meron shows plastic bags with shoes and hats belonging to people who were attending a religious gathering overnight in the northern Israeli town near the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag B’Omer holiday. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Citing shortage, medics plead for blood donations after Meron disaster

The Magen David Adom emergency service pleads with Israelis to donate blood following the Meron stampede, citing a shortage.

“We are short of blood,” says an MDA spokeswoman. “We are opening sites across the country and call on people to come and donate to help with this disaster as well as our daily activities.”

MDA is specifically looking for type O donors, according to Channel 12. Those who have come in contact with COVID-19 carriers in the past 28 days are not eligible to donate blood.

Thousands still struggling to get home after Meron disaster

Thousands of people are struggling to get home following the stampede at Mount Meron, with some still stranded on the mountain and others flocking to nearby transportation terminals.

Police have set up dozens of roadblocks around the area, in an effort to direct traffic, but the sheer numbers of people and vehicles is causing traffic jams and backups around Mount Meron and the nearby city of Safed.

The winding, single-lane highways surrounding Mount Meron in northern Israel are dotted with groups of religious Jews, carrying suitcases and plastic bags, as they make their way on foot toward home before Shabbat begins on Friday evening.

Though a massive bussing operation is underway from Mount Meron itself, the narrow roads leading to the site and general confusion have created a major bottleneck, leaving men, women and children stranded.

A photo taken on April 30, 2021 shows a crowded street in the northern Israeli town of Meron near the scene of an overnight stampede which took place during a religious gathering near the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag B’Omer holiday. (Jack Guez / AFP)

New Jersey student said among missing at Meron

New Hope MK Dani Dayan, formerly Israel’s consul general in New York, says a New Jersey student is among those missing following the Mount Meron disaster.

Daniel Morris, 19, was separated from his friends and has yet to be located, says Dayan.

Police minister: Many Meron victims have yet to be identified

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana says many of the Meron stampede victims have yet to be identified.

“Unfortunately, many of the deceased have yet to be identified… and as a result, there are many families still unaware [of the fate of their relatives],” he says.

Ohana, whose office oversees the Israel Police, says officers are working to clear the roads around Mount Meron and enable those stranded at the pilgrimage site to head home.

Chief rabbi: Now is the time for prayer, not blame

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef calls for prayer, not blame, following the deadly Lag B’Omer stampede at Mount Meron.

“This is not the time to look for guilty parties,” he says, urging mass prayer for the victims and injured.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef speaks during Shas Party’s election rally at the Yazdim synagogue in Jerusalem on February 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Chaos at Mount Meron as crowds wait for hours to leave site

Masses of men, women and small children have been waiting for hours to leave Mount Meron, following the deadly stampede at the pilgrimage site early this morning.

Police officers say they have almost no control over the massive bussing operation underway at the site, which is being rolled out haphazardly and with evident mismanagement.

With no clear signs or directions, people are stopping passing buses to ask their destinations — Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Safed — causing massive traffic jams and further confusion.

“We have no direction. There’s someone down the hill who’s supposed to be in charge, but I don’t know. We’re trying to keep people back to let the buses through but…” a police officer tells The Times of Israel, before trailing off with a shrug.

As people have been stranded here for hours, individuals have begun passing out water bottles to keep people from dehydrating.

Orthodox Jews are pictured on April 30, 2021 following a stampede in Meron which took place overnight during a religious gathering in the northern Israeli town near the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag B’Omer holiday (Jack Guez / AFP)

Germany laments ‘devastating’ Lag B’Omer stampede at Meron

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sends his condolences to the families of the Mount Meron stampede victims, while lamenting the “devastating” tragedy.

https://twitter.com/GermanyDiplo/status/1388019744624816128

Justice Ministry unit probing whether police negligence caused stampede

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department will immediately open a probe into possible police negligence in the fatal stampede in Meron, the attorney general announces.

Investigators have already been sent to Meron to gather evidence.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in a statement, says “it was decided that PIID will immediately examine whether there are suspicions of criminality by police in the tragedy in Meron.”

But the attorney general says that at this stage, testimony won’t be taken from police officers who were present at the scene.

Netanyahu heads to Meron after deadly stampede

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on his way to Mount Meron, following the deadly stampede, one of Israel’s worst-ever peacetime disasters, Army Radio reports.

Health minister visits Safed hospital after stampede

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visits the Ziv Medical Center in Safed after the Meron disaster.

Speaking to reporters, Edelstein says most of the injured have been identified and are in contact with their families.

“I hope that whoever is in the hospital will be discharged home soon,” says Edelstein. “We, as a government, will check what happened there [in Meron].”

Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy says the families of several of the casualties are located abroad.

Families of Meron victims set to arrive at forensic institute to ID bodies

The Abu Kabir Forensic Institute is set to receive the bodies of Meron stampede victims, ahead of the identification process, the Health Ministry says.

Yiddish-speaking social workers are on hand to assist the families, many of whom are ultra-Orthodox, arriving to identify the bodies, according to the ministry.

EU, India, Austria extend condolences over Meron disaster

India and Austria join numerous other countries in offering condolences to Israel over the Meron stampede tragedy.

The European Union, in a statement, says it “expresses its deepest condolences to families and friends of the victims and to the people of Israel and extends its wishes for a quick recovery to those hurt.”

Police minister calls for independent probe of Meron disaster

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who oversees the Israel Police, calls for an independent investigation of the Mount Meron stampede.

“A terrible disaster occurred last night. It is clear that an independent… investigation will be needed for all aspects related to the planning of the event, preparations, responsibilities, infrastructure, etc.,” says Ohana at Meron.

Police have launched an investigation and a Justice Ministry unit is probing possible police culpability in the deadly affair.

Palestinian attempts to stab Israeli cop near Bethlehem, is shot

A Palestinian man attempts to stab an Israeli police officer with a sharp object south of Bethlehem, police say.

The suspected assailant has been shot and is being treated at the scene. The police officer is not injured.

Netanyahu arrives in Meron after deadly stampede

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived at Mount Meron following the deadly Lag B’Omer stampede.

He is touring the site of one of Israel’s worst peacetime disasters with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and police.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana at the scene of the Mt Meron tragedy, hours after dozens of people were killed in a stampede at the site, which was packed with Lag B’Omer pilgrims, April 30, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Hebrew media reports say some of the worshipers who remain at the site are heckling the prime minister and chanting slogans against him. Channel 12 broadcasts a clip in which one voice apparently denounces him as a “Nazi.”

TV: At time of stampede, 90,000 were at Meron, far fewer than previous years

Around 90,000 people were at Mount Meron at the time of the deadly Lag B’Omer stampede, far fewer than previous years, Channel 12 reports.

The TV network underlines that it was the bottleneck where the disaster unfolded, rather than the number of total worshipers at the pilgrimage site, that drove the tragedy.

The Lag B’Omer festivities at Meron — the burial site of Jewish sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai — generally draw hundreds of thousands.

Crowd in the moments before the Mt Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Screen grab)

Survivor describes harrowing stampede: ‘I have a kid at home, help me!’

One of the wounded interviewed by the Kan public broadcaster in hospital describes the harrowing minutes of the stampede.

“There were many people on me. And we slipped one onto another, more and more and more people, until the police decided to just pull the fences down and start to rescue people.

“It took time, and in the meantime I remember I was lying on someone and he wasn’t breathing.

“There was a point where someone just wanted to move, so he shoved a fist to here” – indicating his face – “and I felt myself stopping to breathe, and I said to him, I screamed, ‘Help me, move your hand!’ and I screamed to people, ‘I have a kid at home, help me!’

“Nobody knew what to do. They threw water from above, that’s all there was to do at that point.”

Local Arab villages near Mount Meron offer food, drink to evacuees

Media reports say residents of local Arab villages and towns near Mount Meron, including in the town of Tamra, have set up stations with free food and drink for the many thousands of Jewish worshipers still trying to make their way out of the mountainous Meron area in the wake of last night’s tragedy.

According to Yoseph Haddad, an Arab Israeli activist, initiatives to help the evacuees have launched in Jish, Yarka and Peki’in.

President Rivlin establishes hotline for families seeking loved ones

President Reuven Rivlin commits his office to help families still desperately searching for their missing loved ones after the Mount Meron disaster.

In a statement, the President’s House announces it has set up a hotline at phone number 02-670-7211 that will remain staffed throughout Shabbat.

“Dear families, please call the President’s Office if you’re looking for your loved ones, or send us a message on social media. We will make every effort to find them via the relevant authorities,” the president’s statement says.

Top Haredi journalist: The state has to take control and organize Mount Meron

As police and Justice Ministry officials announce the launch of investigations into the tragedy at Mount Meron, some influential ultra-Orthodox journalists are calling for introspection within their own community as well.

“Our community also has a duty to learn lessons” from the disaster, Yossi Elituv, editor of the Mishpacha weekly and host of a radio show on Israel Radio, says on Twitter.

Elituv lashes the chaotic division of the pilgrimage area between various competing Hasidic sects as part of the problem that led to last night’s tragedy.

“Our first and immediate task, to free Mount [Meron] from the control” of the sects.

“Rabbi Shimon [Bar Yochai, the second-century sage commemorated at the site,] is the spiritual asset of the entire Jewish people, not of any private body. The state needs to establish a professional authority to run the site according to the following principle: the public welfare and the safety of the worshipers.”

Health Ministry sets up mental health hotline after Meron disaster

The Health Ministry establishes a hotline for those seeking psychological help dealing with the Meron disaster.

The hotline offers advice on coping with the tragedy for those affected. It was established in collaboration with the Geha Mental Health Center in Petah Tikvah.

The number of the hotline is 03-933-2995.

Netanyahu declares Sunday a day of national mourning for Meron victims, promises thorough probe

Visiting the site of the Meron disaster, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that Sunday would be marked a “day of national mourning.”

“There were heartbreaking scenes here. People who were crushed to death, including children,” Netanyahu says in a video from the scene.

He asked Israelis not to spread rumors about the identity of the dead. “Many of the dead have yet to be identified, and I ask not to spread rumors on social networks because it breaks the families’ hearts. Let the authorities work.”

He praised the rescuers, whose “fast work” prevented “a much larger disaster.”

“We will carry out a comprehensive, serious, detailed investigation to ensure this kind of disaster never happens again,” he vowed.

“I ask on Sunday to announce a day of national mourning. We will all join in the grief of the families and in prayer for the wounded.”

Screenshot of a video released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the scene of the deadly stampede at Mount Meron, on April 30, 2021. (Channel 12 screen capture)

Authorities begin releasing names of Meron victims

The first names are released by authorities of those who died in the Mount Meron disaster.

The dead include old and young, parents and children. Over 12 hours after the tragedy, many families are still reporting being unable to reach missing loved ones.

Shragi Gestetner, a Montreal native and well-known Haredi singer, is among the dead.

Rabbi Menahem Zakbach of Modi’in Illit.

Simha Bonim Ziskind, 23, from Beit Shemesh. His funeral will take place today in Haifa.

Rabbi Shimon Matalon of Beitar Illit.

As news of the deaths is filtering to families of those identified, some of the notices being posted on Hebrew-language social media accounts are especially heartbreaking.

“The grandchild of a neighbor, about 12 years old, has died. The heart struggles to believe,” one Israeli writes on Twitter.

Meron death toll raised to 45

The ZAKA rescue service raises the death toll in the Meron disaster to 45.

MDA establish blood donation sites nationwide as Israelis rush to give

Israelis throughout the country are responding to the call by the Magen David Adom rescue service for blood donations to help handle the demand as hospitals care for the wounded from the Meron disaster.

MDA opens up donation sites throughout the country, where lines of donors sometimes stretch for over an hour.

Donation sites can be found here.

Donors in Tel Aviv:

Druze town offers help, opens homes to Meron evacuees

Radi Najm, mayor of the Druze town of Beit Jan near Mount Meron, said his town had opened its facilities and many families had opened their homes to evacuees and rescuers from the disaster.

The help from nearby Arab and Druze villages and towns to the masses of Jewish evacuees after the tragedy has been a consistent thread in the media reporting on the disaster.

“Beit Jan residents and the local council join in the grief of the entire nation,” Najm says in a statement.

“They open their homes and the council’s facilities to offer any help possible. I have ordered the [town’s] emergency services to provide any help necessary to the rescue crews. The residents are ready to receive evacuees and families from the disaster area.”

Similar help has come from nearby Tamra, Peki’in and other Arab towns.

Past reports surface that warned of potential for chaos and tragedy at Meron

As the hours pass from the tragedy, more and more information is coming to light about the many warnings issued by various authorities over the years, from senior traffic cops to the state comptroller, about the potential for chaos and disaster at the Meron site.

The various reports reveal that by standard police safety regulations for public gatherings, the site should not have been permitted to hold more than about 15,000 people. Officials have estimated the crowds at the site last night at over 100,000.

Commander Ilan Mor, head of the operational branch of the national traffic police, produced a document in 2016 titled, “Meron celebrations: Erasing the writing on the wall.”

The internal police document analyzes past tragedies caused by overcrowding at public events, including disasters and near-disasters at Meron itself, and concludes that the infrastructure at the Meron holy site could not safely accommodate the numbers of worshipers that attend each year at Lag B’Omer.

In the report, Mor calls to limit the number of people attending and to appoint a single organizer to manage the site, instead of allowing each Hasidic sect to run its own area.

Similarly, a 2008 state comptroller report warned of a “systemic failure at the Rashbi compound [at Meron]” due to “many different authorities all involved in its management,” a chaotic situation that would lead to harm to the holy site and endangered the worshipers.

Social media flooded with posts searching for missing loved ones

As families continue to search for loved ones, Hebrew-language social media sites see a spate of heart-breaking posts with photographs of the missing and requests to call family members if the individual is found.

A notice looking for 15-year-old Netanel Avrahami:

Another is looking for a young man named Yosef Yehuda Levi:

“If someone in the Meron area sees this young man, ask him if his name is Shmuel. If it is, give him a cellphone so he can call.”

https://twitter.com/shmuel_epshteyn/status/1387921659764555777

Daniel Morris, 19, from Teaneck, New Jersey:

The lucky ones: As father readies to identify son’s body, son walks in the door

Eliyahu Kamar from Or Yehuda searched for his missing son all night, calling hospitals and hoping against hope as the hours dragged by with no word that he would find him among the wounded.

When he could not find his son at any hospital even after authorities said all the wounded had been identified, he began to fear the worst.

He got in his car and drove to the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv, where officials were calling on families to come identify the bodies of those killed at Meron.

It was then, as he stood outside Abu Kabir, that he got the call: His son had just walked into the house and gone to sleep after a long night on the roads trying to leave the Meron area.

“Everything is okay, praise God,” he told reporters at the scene. “He couldn’t call because he was stuck on the buses up there and the phone lines had fallen.”

Cellphone networks in the area collapsed overnight under the strain of calls from families seeking their loved ones.

Kamar said he knew he was one of the lucky ones.

“I just want to send my condolences to families that didn’t get to be where I am. My heart, my heart is with them.”

Rivlin lights 45 memorial candles at President’s House for Meron victims

President Reuven Rivlin lights 45 memorial candles at the President’s Residence in memory of the Meron victims.

Rush of donors fills MDA blood banks to capacity, no more donors needed

Magen David Adom says the rush of blood donors from around the country has filled its blood banks to capacity.

“MDA is grateful to the huge public that arrived en masse to donate blood. At the moment there’s no more need to come today. Donations will be welcome over the course of the next week,” the organization’s spokesman Zaki Heller says.

Reports are surfacing on social media that MDA donation stations are starting to turn away donors for lack of space to properly store new donations.

Don’t rush to point fingers at police, head ZAKA rescuer at Meron says

Zohar Dvir, head of the ZAKA rescue teams at the Meron holy site who has been on the scene for most of the last 24 hours, says people shouldn’t rush to point fingers at police for the tragedy.

“I think it is a tragedy that happened, not a mistake or negligence. It’s really not negligence. The problem is the facility and the large crowds,” he tells The Times of Israel.

ZAKA rescue officer Zohar Dvir at Mount Meron on April 30, 2021. (Nathan Jeffay/Times of Israel)

“Things look tough now, it’s important to say everything will be investigated. It was an effect like dominos of people falling, one on top of another.

“It’s an event police plan for months [ahead of time] and the standard of policing was high.”

— Nathan Jeffay

Fathers, teens, US rabbis: More names of Meron victims come out

More names are coming out of victims of the disaster on Mount Meron:

Rabbi Hanoch Slod, 52 of Ashdod

Yedidia Fogel, a student at Ramat Gan Yeshiva

Moshe Ben Shalom, 20, a student at Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak

David Kreus, 33, a father of nine from Beit Shemesh

Yosef Amram Tauber, an 18-year-old from the US

Elazar Mordechai Goldberg, 37, a father of four from Beitar Illit

Rabbi Eliezer Zvi Yosef, 26, a father of four from the US

Eliyahu Cohen, 16 of Beitar Illit

Report: Senior civil engineer approved event ahead of disaster

Haaretz reports that a senior civil engineer working on behalf of the Religious Affairs Ministry approved yesterday night’s event after touring the site, including the narrow corridor where the disaster occurred.

He will likely be questioned as the investigation into the incident moves forward.

Sunday’s cabinet meeting canceled in light of Meron disaster

The cabinet meeting planned for Sunday has been canceled following the disaster at Mount Meron.

Cabinet Secretary Tzahi Braverman says: “Our hearts are with the families who have lost their loved ones, and we send wishes of full recovery for the wounded.”

Therapist says trauma for those at scene will be major and long-lasting

The Maccabi health provider set up a trauma center this morning in Karmiel for people dealing with psychological impact from the night’s events.

Maccabi psychologist Gal Samooha says families “came with anxiety as a result of their traumatic experience.” He says the psychological impact of the disaster will only become clear in the coming weeks, and will likely be major.

“People don’t always feel the impact of such events immediately, and it is often only realized weeks later. There were so many people and it was so traumatic that there will be a lot of impact on mental health,” he says.

“Let’s remember that entire families were there, including young children. There could well be kids, and adults too, with difficulty sleeping, flashbacks and an ongoing sense of anxiety.”

Rescue workers and police at the scene after a crush of people killed at least 45 people during celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

President Rivlin: ‘A terrible, painful day. A heartbreaking tragedy’

In a video statement, President Reuven Rivlin speaks of “a terrible, painful day. A heartbreaking tragedy.

“Our prayers and thoughts are with those injured and with the families of those killed and missing in the awful tragedy at Mt. Meron last night.”

He sends his “heartfelt thanks to those working ceaselessly since last night to rescue and give medical treatment. This is the time to embrace the families. To help all those looking for their loved ones. To take those injured to our hearts. To weep together.”

Arab leaders speak of ‘heartache, deep sorrow’ over Meron disaster

Arab leaders have expressed sorrow over the tragedy at Mount Meron.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh speaks of “heartache” for the dozens of families “left torn and bereaved.” He says he is heartened to see Jews and Arabs work together to respond to the disaster, calling it “a small ray of light in the great tragedy.”

He calls for a thorough probe of failures that led to the event.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi tweets of “a terrible disaster” and speaks of “deep sorrow for those who died on the day they came to celebrate.”

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas sends condolences to the bereaved and writes of “difficult feelings over the terrible disaster.”

The Arab town of Tamra has set up a rest stop for evacuees from Mount Meron to have something to eat and drink on their way home.

 

Bahrain sends condolences to Israel over Mt. Meron deaths

The crown prince of Bahrain offers condolences to Israel over the events at Mount Meron.

“His royal highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince and prime minister, today sent a cable of condolences to the prime minister of the State of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, following the Lag Ba’omer Mount Meron stampede,” according to a statement.

He “expressed his condolences to the government of Israel and the families of the victims, while wishing the injured a speedy recovery.”

Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa attends an event in Manama, Bahrain, Nov. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File)

Two pairs of young brothers named among the dead at Mt. Meron

Two pairs of young brothers have been named among the dead at Mt. Meron.

Moshe Englander, 14, and Yehoshua Englander, 9, of Jerusalem.

And Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, 12, and David Elhadad, 18, of northern Israel.

 

Cabinet okays Sunday as day of mourning, army bases to lower flags to half-mast

The cabinet has approved a declaration of Sunday, May 2 as a national day of mourning following the Meron disaster.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz instructs the military to fly flags at half-mast and cancel events. Ceremonies are expected at army bases.

Only 12 of 45 victims officially identified, preventing burials before Shabbat

Only 12 of the 45 bodies of people killed in the stampede at Mount Meron have been officially identified by next of kin more than 15 hours after the disaster, the Health Ministry says.

This delay is being fiercely opposed by the families of victims, who want to bury the bodies as quickly as possible in accordance with Jewish tradition.

The head of Israel’s Legal Medicine Institute, which is tasked with identifying the bodies, says the delay comes from the fact that it is “a complicated and sensitive process.

“The institute’s workers and teams are working determinedly and sensitively to complete the identification process,” says Dr. Chen Kugel.

The Health Ministry says the process involves finding the fingerprints, dental records and DNA tests of suspected victims and checking those against the body.

“We must work responsibly in order to prevent — heaven forbid — dire mistakes. Our hearts are with the families on this difficult day,” Kugel says.

US ‘deeply saddened’ by Meron tragedy, checking reports Americans among victims

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offers Israel condolences over the Meron disaster.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy that occurred at Mt. Meron in Israel. We mourn the lives lost, extend our deepest condolences to the families, and pray for the injured to recover quickly,” he tweets.

The US Embassy adds it is working with local authorities to verify reports that US citizens are among the injured and dead.

“Our consular section stands ready to provide all possible support to any affected US citizens and their family members,” it says.

Jordan’s King Abdullah calls President Rivlin, offers condolences

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has called President Rivlin and offered condolences.

Rivlin thanks Abdullah, saying the “embrace” by Israel’s friends around the world “warms the heart and gives strength.”

Rivlin has received similar messages from numerous European countries as well as from the Vatican.

Jordan’s King Abdullah delivers his speech at the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, eastern France, January 15, 2020. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

 

Man says he called to warn police 2 hours before disaster, was ignored

A man who was at Mount Meron yesterday evening has told Channel 12 he called police two hours before the disaster to report the danger, but that he was told nothing could be done.

“I wanted to enter… and I saw the crowding… I was simply sucked in with the crowd, under huge pressure. I wanted to escape back but I couldn’t,” he said. “I felt my lungs were being squeezed.”

Israeli rescue forces and police near a mass fatality scene during a gathering marking the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The man, identified only as Yehuda, said he eventually managed to escape the crowd and called police to say there was “mortal danger.” He said a dispatcher told him the line was for emergency calls only and that he should talk with officers at the scene, which he did, but to no avail.

“I felt I wasn’t being taken seriously,” he said.

Pain and sorrow as first victims of Meron disaster are laid to rest

Burials have begun for some of the victims of the Meron disaster.

Jewish tradition calls not to delay funerals until after Shabbat. Families whose loved ones have been positively identified have rushed to do so.

The Jewish day of rest begins around 6:40-7:00 p.m., depending on the city.

Elazar Goldberg, 38, is being laid to rest in Beit Illit. His father eulogizes him: “We were blessed to have you for 38 years, and now you’ve left us.” His brother wails: “We can’t believe you’re not with us,” Ynet reports.

In Bnei Brak Menachem Zakbach, 24, is also buried. His wife is pregnant, and the two have a one-year-old baby.

In Ashdod, Rabbi Hanoch Slod, 52, is laid to rest.

Hundreds of people attend each event.

Despite disaster, hundreds at Meron for traditional haircuts for young boys

In spite of the overnight disaster, many Haredim are at Mount Meron today to give their boys the traditional upsherin or “halakeh” haircut, and are continuing to celebrate the Lag B’Omer holiday at the site.

The tradition, popular in some religious communities, sees three-year-old boys get their first haircut. And many do so at Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer.

Channel 12 reports from the scene, where hundreds appear to be gathered, with some lighting bonfires and some singing.

“It’s happiness mixed with sadness,” one man tells Channel 12. “We are happy on the one hand, we’re pained on the other, but with Shabbat comes rest. We let go of the sadness and freeze it until after Shabbat.”

PA president expresses sorrow for Meron disaster, ‘praying for victims’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sends a letter of condolence to President Rivlin Rivlin.

In the letter, Abbas expresses his sorrow “for the tragedy that claimed the lives of dozens of victims,” adding, “we are praying for the victims and hope for the recovery of those injured,” according to the President’s Office.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wears a mask upon his arrival to head the Palestinian leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, Pool)

Cops still searching for 40 people, including kids, out of contact with families

Channel 12 reports that authorities are still searching for about 40 people who are not believed to have been harmed during the night’s events, but who have been out of contact with their families since then. Some of them are children.

Many did not have cellphones at Mount Meron, and some are believed to have failed to make contact due to shock and confusion following the disaster.

Israel gets messages of support from Arab countries it does not have ties with

The Foreign Ministry says minister Gabi Ashkenazi has received calls from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed over the Meron tragedy.

His office adds that he has received messages of condolences from several Arab nations during the day, including some that do not have official relations with Israel. It does not name those countries.

Minister Of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020.
(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

5 Americans, 1 Argentinian among Meron victims

Channel 12, citing the Foreign Ministry, says at least five US citizens are among the dead at Mount Meron.

And Daniel Ambon, 21 from Argentina, has been named as another victim. He studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem funeral begins of Yehoshua Englander, 9, and his brother Moshe, 14

The Jerusalem funeral begins of Moshe Englander, 14, and Yehoshua Englander, 9, one of two pairs of brothers killed in the crush at Meron, according to Hebrew-language media.

The boys were identified at the Abu Kabir forensic center by their father.

Channel 12 reports that as the start of Shabbat nears — ending the period of time burials are permitted — it becomes a “race against time” to complete funerals.

“Mourners stream in and out of the funeral hall, one group after another as they race to complete the burials,” the correspondent says.

Biden calls Netanyahu to express condolences over ‘heartbreaking’ Meron tragedy

US President Joe Biden calls Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer his condolences over the “heartbreaking” events at Mount Meron, saying authorities are working to confirm reports that American citizens were among the dead and wounded.

“The United States stands with the people of Israel, and with Jewish communities the world over, in mourning the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron,” Biden says in a statement.

“The loss of life among worshipers practicing their faith is heartbreaking. I have instructed my team to offer our assistance to the government and people of Israel as they respond to the disaster and care for the wounded. We are also working to confirm reports that American citizens may have lost their lives or been wounded during the religious observance of Lag B’Omer,” Biden says.

“The people of the United States and Israel are bound together by our families, our faiths, and our histories, and we will stand with our friends. Our prayers are with those who were injured and all those who lost loved ones. May their memories be a blessing,” the US president says, using a traditional Jewish phrase to those mourning.

In this April 15, 2021, file photo, US President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Netanyahu says in a tweet that Biden called him to express his condolences and regret over the tragedy.

“I thank him on your behalf, citizens of Israel. I also thank [Russian] President Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European leaders, and leaders in the Arab world — from Bahrain, the Emirates and many other leaders who share the grief of all Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu says.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has said that at least four US citizens are among the dead in the disaster.

Netanyahu donates blood, praises Israeli citizens for uniting in face of tragedy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu donates blood after emergency services earlier in the day pleaded for supplies in the wake of the Meron disaster.

“Thank you to many of the citizens of Israel who donated blood today,” the prime minister tweets. “In the moments that test us, our people unite as we see today.

“I will do everything, and the Israeli government will do everything, to help the families of those who died. We will help you recover in any way we can!” the prime minister says.

Hundreds of people lined up to donate blood around the country, with some waiting in line for hours in Tel Aviv. Additionally, residents of Arab towns surrounding Meron opened their homes to rescuers and evacuees.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu donates blood at Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in the wake of the Meron disaster (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

32 killed in Meron tragedy now identified, with 22 funerals held

The Abu Kabir forensic center says 32 of those killed in the Meron tragedy have been identified and 22 of them buried.

The Health Ministry stops the identification of bodies after Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau orders the process halted at the start of Shabbat.

The center is expected to restart naming victims on Saturday evening.

The death toll stands at 45.

Hundreds attend the Jerusalem funeral of David Krauss in Jerusalem, one of the victims of the Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Following Biden’s lead, Blinken makes condolence call to Israeli counterpart Ashkenazi

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has phoned his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi to express his condolences over the mass casualty incident at Mount Meron.

“The Secretary noted that the United States stands ready to assist Israel during this difficult time,” according to a readout from the State Department. “[Blinken] reiterated that – just as this is a tragedy for both of our countries – the bond between the United States and Israel is ironclad, and that the United States mourns the lives lost alongside Israel.”

Till very last minute, Health officials sought to limit number of Meron visitors

Channel 12 reports that until the last minute health officials sought to impose a limit to the number of visitors to Mount Meron for Lag B’Omber celebrations due to coronavirus concerns.

The Health Ministry also hoped to condition entry to those with Green Passports.

However, a number of right-wing lawmakers pushed back against the idea, insisting that the majority-Haredi crowd be allowed to celebrate at Meron as they had in years past.

Police commissioner, senior commander to provide testimony in probe into Meron disaster

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi will be called to provide testimony in the Justice Ministry Police Internal Investigations Department’s probe into the Meron tragedy, Channel 12 reports.

Gantz tells Netanyahu that Meron tragedy won’t change his mind about joining him

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is still not interested in the latter’s offer to join the government the Likud leader is seeking to form, Channel 12 reports.

Gantz has said that Netanyahu offered that Gantz serve first as prime minister in a rotational agreement.

Netanyahu will only request extension of mandate from president if he can prove he’s close to sealing deal

Despite the tragedy in Meron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not planning on requesting an extension to the government-forming mandate unless he is indeed close to cobbling together a coalition and is able to prove such to the president, Channel 12 reports.

Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires on May 4.

The premier is not expected to form a government and the president will likely have to choose between giving it to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett or another MK.

Gantz said to tell confidants, Meron tragedy must lead to public commission of inquiry

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has told confidants that yesterday’s tragedy at Mount Meron cannot end with a probe carried out by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department.

A more appropriate answer would be a government-appointed public commission of inquiry, he says, according to Channel 12.

Senior police official: source of Meron tragedy lies in lack of regulation

The deputy commander of the police’s coastal district tells Channel 12 that the source of the failure that led to yesterday’s tragedy at Mount Meron is the lack of regulation over religious events.

According to Ofer Shomer, police are barred from such regulation at religious sites and events due to pushback from prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis, some of whom reject the authority of the state.

Joint List chairman calls on public security minister to resign over Meron tragedy

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh says Public Security Minister Amir Ohana must resign over yesterday’s tragedy in Meron.

Ohana’s office published a picture of him overlooking the police’s securing of the Lag B’Omer celebration. However, he has not issued a statement claiming responsibility since the tragedy took place.

Odeh accuses Ohana of “sweeping disregard for the many warnings and signs of danger.”

“From the violence and crime that takes place in Arab society to the management his management of the pandemic to the Meron disaster, the government and the police are closing their eyes and abandoning entire sectors [of the public]. Ohana must take responsibility for the terrible omission and resign immediately,” Odeh tweets.

Deri asked, received approval from Ohana not to limit number of Meron visitors

Ahead of yesterday’s Lag B’Omer event in Meron, right-wing, religious lawmakers exerted immense pressure to ensure that there would be no limits placed on the number of attendees, Channel 12 reports.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri sent an official request to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, saying that “anyone who wants to come [to Meron] should be allowed to do so.”

Ohana went on to approve the request and no limits on attendees were put in place at Meron, despite requests from health officials.

J Street pans Abbas delay of Palestinian elections

The dovish J Street lobby issues a statement expressing concern over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to indefinitely delay elections scheduled for next month.

“It’s clear that Palestinians have suffered greatly from a lack of democratic processes stemming from their internal political divisions, and that a newly elected and legitimized leadership would be better positioned to advocate for Palestinian rights and aspirations in the face of endless occupation and de facto annexation,” the group says.

“We believe that Palestinian political reconciliation… is an essential condition needed to successfully negotiate a two-state peace agreement and create a globally recognized independent Palestinian state.”

“At the same time, we recognize the challenges involved with attempting to integrate Palestinian factions committed to nonviolence and diplomacy with those, like Hamas, that have frequently engaged in violence and terror. It’s critical that any new Palestinian government resulting from new elections continue to recognize Israel and reject violence as a tactic,” the group adds.

J Street notes the reason why Abbas chose to delay elections — alleged refusal by Israel to allow them to take place in East Jerusalem. The lobby says the matter is a legitimate concern and the US should urge Israel to allow elections to take place there but argues that that reason alone is not enough to justify the delay.

Weeks before Meron tragedy, Shas minister praised Deri’s preparation for Lag B’Omer event

Roughly two weeks before the tragedy at Mount Meron, Religious Affairs Minister Yaakov Avitan toured the site to monitor preparation for the mass gathering there to celebrate Lag B’Omer.

“I was impressed by the comprehensive and professional preparation that is being made for the celebration, both by the Center for Holy Places, by the police and by other parties,” Avitan said then in a statement.

“I thank Interior Minister Aryeh Deri for the efforts he has made in the face of various [complications] to enable the ascendence of many to Meron this year without any restrictions, and I hope that with God’s help everything will go well,” he adds.

Blinken thanks Moroccan FM for normalizing with Israel

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauds Morocco’s recent decision to normalize relations with Israel during a phone call with Rabat’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

“The secretary welcomed Morocco’s steps to improve relations with Israel and noted the Morocco-Israel relationship will bring long-term benefits for both countries,” reads a readout from the State Department.

“They discussed opportunities to increase cooperation in Africa to promote economic prosperity and stability and the Secretary highlighted Morocco’s key role in fostering stability in the Sahel and Libya,” the statement reads.

Number of fully vaccinated in US tops 100 million; Biden orders restricting of travel from India

Disneyland reopened this morning and cruise lines welcomed the news that they could be sailing again in the US by midsummer, as the number of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached another milestone: 100 million.

Visitors cheered and screamed with delight as the Southern California theme park swung open its gates for the first time in 13 months in a powerful symbol of the US rebound, even though the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth is allowing only in-state guests for now and operating at just 25% capacity.

The reopening and similar steps elsewhere around the country reflect increasing optimism as COVID-19 deaths tumble and the ranks of the vaccinated grow — a stark contrast to the worsening disaster in India and Brazil and the scant availability of vaccines in many poor parts of the world.

In fact, the US says it will restrict travel from India starting Tuesday, citing a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and the emergence of potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

While the overall number of lives lost to COVID-19 in the US has eclipsed 575,000, deaths have plummeted to an average of about 670 per day from a peak of around 3,400 in mid-January.

Thirty-nine percent of the nation’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 55% of adults have received at least one dose.

However, about 8% of those who have gotten one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have not returned for their second shot, officials said. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said it is important to complete the course to gain maximum protection against the coronavirus.

Suicide truck bomber hits Afghan guest house, killing 14

A powerful suicide truck bombing struck a guest house in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 14 people and wounding as many as 90, the Interior Ministry says.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province, and there was no indication as to why the guest house was targeted. In Afghanistan, guest houses are lodgings often provided for free by the government, usually for the poor, travelers and students.

The attack comes on the eve of the official date set for the start of the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban, who had demanded that all US troops pull out of Afghanistan by May 1, have not offered any guarantees for the safety of the departing troops.

There was no indication the bombing was connected to the pullout and there are no US or NATO troops in Logar.

After 20 years, Washington is ending its “forever war” in Afghanistan. Starting on Saturday, the last remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops will begin leaving the country, to be fully out by Sept. 11 at the latest.

The pullout comes amid a resurgent Taliban, who control or hold sway over half of Afghanistan.

US national security adviser: Vienna talks on Iran nuclear program at ‘unclear place’

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan tells an Aspen Security Forum webinar that the indirect talks in Vienna on a possible US return to the JCPOA are in “an unclear place.”

“I’m not going to characterize the substance of the negotiations at this point because they are in . . . an unclear place,” Sullivan told an Aspen Security Forum webinar. “We’ve seen willingness of all sides, including the Iranians, to talk seriously about sanctions relief… and a pathway back into the JCPOA,” he says.

Top police commanders have no intention to resign after Meron disaster — report

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi have told associates they don’t intend to resign over the deadly stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron Thursday night that left 45 dead, the Haaretz daily reports.

Lavi said yesterday that he bears “overall responsibility” for the disaster, but an unnamed senior police official tells the newspaper that “there is a big gap between taking responsibility and blame.”

The report further says that the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department is not expected to summon Shabtai to testify or question officers under caution.

Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi (R) and Police Commisioner Kobi Shabtai (R) at Mount Meron ahead of the tragedy, April 29, 2021 (Israel Police)

Funerals, identification of bodies in Mt. Meron disaster to resume after Shabbat

The identification of bodies from the deadly stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron is set to resume when Shabbat ends at nightfall.

Funerals are also set to resume again when Shabbat ends.

Before Shabbat began last night, 32 of the 45 bodies were formally identified at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv, and 22 released to relatives for burial. The institute halted the identification process yesterday evening, following a ruling from the chief rabbi that it could not continue on the Sabbath.

Jewish tradition calls for the dead to be buried as soon as possible. Families whose loved ones were positively identified rushed to do so yesterday before the Jewish day of rest began around 6:40-7:00 p.m., depending on sunset times in the different cities.

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