The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.
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.
Former police commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki joins calls for a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster. Another ex-commissioner, Moshe Karadi, issued the same demand on Friday night.
Speaking on Channel 12 news, Aharonishki, who helmed the force from 2001-4, reinforces characterizations of the Mt. Meron facility — around the burial site of the 2nd Century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai — as a kind of extraterritorial facility where ultra-Orthodox organizers have ultimate control.
“The police are not in charge of safety” at Meron, Aharonishki says, speaking in the wake of the disaster overnight Thursday-Friday in which 45 people were crushed to death in a packed, narrow, sloping walkway, with a slippery metal floor, along the exit route from the site during Lag B’Omer festivities.
Channel 12’s police reporter Moshe Nussbaum says that as far as he can determine, responsibility for security at the site ultimately rests with the National Center for the Protection of Holy Places, at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Aharonishki says there were “sighs of relief” every year in his day when the annual Lag B’Omer festivities passed off without fatal incident. He and the former police Northern District commander Dan Ronen say there have been concerns for many years about the drastically inadequate infrastructure at the facility, including at the huge tiered outdoor stands where vast numbers of participants gather.
“The first priority is a state commission of inquiry,” Aharonishki says. “The next disaster [at Meron] is already on its way.”
There is an unfortunate tradition in Israel, the day after a disaster, to go out with “a gallows and a guillotine,” and quickly “find someone to pin blame on,” says Aharonishki. The failure at Meron was deep and protracted, he says, and needs thorough investigation and a complete overhaul of the arrangements for all activities there.
Ronen says senior ex-police officers are organizing a formal plea for a state commission of inquiry, and that it was “a mistake” by the attorney general to have ordered an investigation by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, since this automatically targets the police for blame.
Israel’s current, transitional government is not empowered to order a state commission of inquiry, opines Haim Ramon, a former justice minister who is also a guest on Channel 12.
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.
כ-20 שוטרים נערכים מחוץ למכון לרפואה משפטית באבו כביר לקראת המשך זיהוי גופות ההרוגים מהאסון במירון. בשונה מאתמול, המשטרה לא תחסום את הכביש במקטע הסמוך לרחוב בן צבי@daniel_elazar pic.twitter.com/ahceR4LyFI
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 1, 2021
Some IDF Home Front Command soldiers report being attacked and spat on by Haredim as they assisted in searching for dead and wounded in the stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron, according to Army Radio.
“We entered the gravesite to search for injured people and suddenly a commotion began that there are female soldiers in uniforms who are touching the wounded. They started to kick and spit on us. The female soldiers were kicked, spit on and punched from every direction,” the radio station quotes a soldier saying.
Avigdor Hayut, a Bnei Brak resident who was hurt in the deadly stampede at Mount Meron, will be released from the hospital when Shabbat ends to attend the funeral of his 13-year-old son Yedidia, one of the 45 victims in the disaster on Lag B’Omer.
Meanwhile, a 52-year-old man who was seriously injured has returned to full consciousness as he’s treated at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
Police fear that tens of thousands of people could flock to Mount Meron in the coming week to pay tribute to those killed and hurt in the disaster there on Lag B’Omer.
The concern is that this could lead to even more people being hurt, Channel 12 news reports, and police are therefore bolstering their deployment at the site.
Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas says any government that is formed will have to rely on the support of his Islamist party, and that he is in talks with all sides.
Abbas notes to Channel 12 news that he has spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid — all whom he says “want to form a government.” He says he’ll back whoever is able to.
Besides the far-right Religious Zionism party, the pro-Netanyahu party which has declared it will not be part of any government that relies on Ra’am, Abbas says all parties are negotiating with his.
He also says Ra’am and Yamina will decide at the “90th minute” if and what government will be formed. He explains this is not an agreement but a reflection of reality, noting both are potential kingmakers. He adds, though, that they “need to be on the same side.”
Netanyahu’s 28-day presidential mandate to form a government expires on Tuesday night. He may seek a 14-day extension from President Reuven Rivlin, but would likely have to convince the president he has a realistic chance of mustering a majority in the additional time. Otherwise Rivlin can charge another candidate — likely Lapid or Bennett — with building a coalition, or throw the mandate back to the Knesset. Parliament would then have 21 days to agree on a prime minister, or Israel would head to a fifth election.
Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai issues his first official response to the disaster during the Lag B’Omer festivities at Mount Meron, in which 45 people were crushed to death in a stampede.
Expressing his “deep sorrow” to the families of the dead and wishing a speedy recovery to the injured, Shabtai says in a statement: “I will not be silent until the circumstances that led to this disaster are made clear. The Israel Police under my command will fully cooperate with any inquiry, with full transparency.”
He adds: “I wish to express my full appreciation to the commanders and all the forces that worked tirelessly during the incident and did everything they could to save lives.”
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana says he takes responsibility for the stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron that left 45 dead, “but responsibility doesn’t mean blame.”
“The entire chain of command did its role. I’m ready to face any inquiry and respond to every question. I want to do so.
“This disaster happened this year, but it could have happened any other year,” he says, referring to past warnings about the risk of overcrowding at the site.
Ohana, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, also vows to work with anyone, both in and out of police — “because this goes way beyond the police” — to “do everything so a disaster like this does not happen again in Israel.”
The IDF confirms several Home Front Command female soldiers were physically and verbally accosted after arriving to assist in rescue efforts at the gravesite at Mount Meron, where 45 people were crushed to death in a deadly stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations.
“The force continued on its mission and ignored the harmful behavior,” the military says in a statement.
The matter was raised by soldiers during an initial investigation into the incident, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
“The IDF views this incident very severely and condemns any violence — physical or verbal — toward female and male soldiers. The IDF in general and Home Front Command in particular will continue to extend a hand, to assist and to save any citizen or resident in a time of need,” the military adds.
Hebrew media reports said five female Home Front Command soldiers were targeted.
The Jerusalem Old City walls are lit up with images of the Israeli flag, large numbers of candles and the city’s crest, alongside the words “Jerusalem shares in the sorrow of the families who lost their loved ones,” in reference to the disaster at Mount Meron in which 45 people were crushed to death in a stampede at Lag B’Omer festivities.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to oppose the formation of state commission of inquiry into the disaster at Mount Meron, according to Channel 12 news, which says those around premier don’t see any interest in establishing such a committee, fearing its political consequences.
On the other hand, the network says Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are expected to call for an independent investigatory panel that will include all relevant elements and not only a governmental investigation.
Morocco’s liaison office in Israel issues a statement expressing its condolences over the tragedy at Mount Meron, where 45 people were crushed to death in a stampede during Lag B’Omer festivities there.
The diplomatic mission resumed operations earlier this year after the US-brokered agreement between Israel and Morocco to reestablish diplomatic ties.
We learned with deep sadness the very unfortunate tragedy that resulted in the loss of lives during celebrations of Lag Baomer at Mount Meron.
Our sincere condolences and sympathy to the families of the victim.
We wish the injured prompt recovery.
With our deepest sympathy
— Morocco In Israel (@morocco_israel) May 1, 2021
The state forensic center still has not identified two of the 45 bodies of those killed in the stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron, according to Channel 13 news.
The center is working to find the families of the two anonymous victims, the network says, adding that no one has come to claim them.
The Tel Aviv Municipality building is lit up with a giant Israeli flag in a sign of mourning for the 45 people who were crushed to death in a stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 1, 2021
Dozens of people gather outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Jerusalem residence, calling to establish a national commission of inquiry into the Mount Meron stampede that left 45 dead.
Police close several roads as demonstrators fill the streets near the premier’s residence.
The protest is held two days after the deadly crush during Lag B’Omer festivities at the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in northern Israel. Protesters light candles in memory of those who died during the stampede.
Demonstrators have been holding regular protests for months against Netanyahu, demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
Aryeh Deri, the minister of the interior and head of the Shas ultra-Orthodox party, indicated in a Thursday evening radio interview, hours before the Meron tragedy, that he had blocked Health Ministry efforts to impose restrictions on the event, Channel 13 reports.
The TV station broadcasts an excerpt from the Thursday interview, with Radio Kol Hai, in which Deri says he “of course would not allow” the planned regulations to be introduced, and complains that the ministry was still trying to get the rules imposed as late as Wednesday night.
Deri’s comments appear to relate to a framework agreement, drawn up by Health Ministry officials, the police and others, which, among other provisions, would reportedly have restricted participation at the Lag B’Omer festivities Thursday night to 9,000 people, and required that they provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
In the event, about 100,000 people attended the Meron festivities. Forty-five participants were crushed to death in a stampede in a narrow walkway along the exit route at around 1 a.m. Friday morning, in what is believed to be Israel’s worst peacetime disaster.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, in a Channel 13 interview on Wednesday evening, had discussed the carefully negotiated framework, and said it was “shameful” that it was not brought to a government vote and implemented. “We worked for weeks on a framework,” Alroy-Prais, the head of public health at the Health Ministry, said. “It was approved by all the parties, by the police, by the Religious Affairs Ministry, by the Interior Ministry — everyone. But in the end it fell through because no one would take responsibility for enforcement.”
In the excerpt from Deri’s interview, the Shas minister begins by saying, “It wasn’t a simple decision,” in an apparent reference to holding the mass gathering at Mount Meron — the largest gathering in Israel since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “It’s a big responsibility. We know the importance of Lag B’Omer. Not all the officials understand this…”
He continues: “It was not simple, including last night. I suddenly realized that the Health Ministry is demanding to impose regulations, and to get this approved [by cabinet ministers] in a telephone vote. They tried [to do this] for two weeks, and I of course would not allow this. And yesterday somebody decided that there’s no other option, and a whole hour had to be spent… Praise the Lord, we got past this as well.”
Yossi Amsalem, who saved the live of 11-year-old Pinchas during the deadly stampede at Mount Meron, meets the boy for the first time since the disaster during Lag B’Omer celebrations.
“Until the afternoon I was sure the boy wasn’t alive… the boy I tried to save.. I didn’t know if he was alive or not. On Shabbat, someone told me the boy is probably in the pediatric department. I approached [the boy], somehow he saw me from afar, he came and told me, ‘thank you.’ It was very moving, even though… he [was speaking] in Yiddish and I was [speaking] Hebrew… I’m happy he’s alive” Amsalem tells the Kan public broadcaster.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 1, 2021
US President Joe Biden met yesterday at the White House with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, according to Israel’s Channel 12 news.
The network says Prime Minister Netanyahu briefed Cohen in advance on the main issues to discuss. Those issues aren’t specified, but the report comes after Cohen and other top Israeli security officials held talks with senior American officials as the Biden administration looks to rejoin the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel opposes in its current form.
Also taking part in the meeting with Biden were senior National Security Council officials, the unsourced reports says, adding that it did not believe the sit-down was planned ahead of time. Rather, the meeting came together as the Israeli delegation was in Washington this week, raising its concerns over the US reentering the 2015 deal, from which president Donald Trump withdrew, unless its provisions against Iran’s nuclear program are widened and tightened.
After the Israel Defense Forces said soldiers assisting in rescue efforts at Mount Meron were physically and verbally accosted, Defense Minister Benny Gantz condemns the assault.
“Saving live is a supreme value and I’m proud of all IDF soldiers in treating the wounding in the disaster at Miron and firmly condemn whoever attacked the soldiers there,” Gantz writes on Twitter.
He adds: “Many citizens owe their lives to those who were called to the event. Just like at Moron, just like during the coronavirus, IDF soldiers will continue to save lives wherever they are needed.”
The Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv says it has identified 42 of the 45 bodies from the deadly stampede at Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer, and expects to finish identifying the remaining victims in the coming hours.
It also says 34 bodies have been released for burial.
“The process is being done in cooperation with the families,” the institute says in a statement released by the Health Ministry.
Dozens of ultra-Orthodox extremists protested in Jerusalem this evening to demand the immediate release of the bodies of the 45 people killed in the stampede during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron, according to Ynet news.
The protesters blocked roads and burned trash cans, and police were working to restore order.
The state forensic center says it has identified 42 of the victims and that 34 bodies have been released for burial.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 1, 2021
Hundreds of people attend the burial of Mount Meron disaster victim Yedidya Fogel, 22, as the series of funerals for the 45 victims of the deadly stampede on Lag B’Omer continues after Shabbat.
Hundreds also take part in the funeral in Ramle for Yosef Mastorov, 17, whose father says in a eulogy that “we had a dream to see him [get married] under the chuppah, with his brothers and sisters.”
The father adds: “He told me, ‘I’m going to Meron.’
“I said, ‘Why do you need to go there?’
“He told me, ‘Father I want to pray all night and then I’ll go back to yeshiva.’
“I know now that he is learning above.”
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