The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
A forum of former police chiefs is urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a state commission of inquiry into Thursday night’s deadly crush at Mount Meron that left 45 dead and injured 150.
In a letter to the prime minister, the chiefs write that in light of their own experiences in overseeing the annual Lag B’Omer events at Mount Meron, a thorough investigation is necessary in order to provide input for future years.
The letter was also sent to Justice Minister Benny Gantz, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, and current Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.
It comes as the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department begins its own probe of the force’s role in the planning and management of the festival attended by some 100,000 people.
During the morning, investigators from the PIID arrived at the scene of the disaster to begin probing its causes, including gathering various documents relating to the preparations and authorizations for the events at the site, the Ynet website reports.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau has told Army Radio that in the wake of the Meron tragedy, management of the site must be formally determined.
“The site needs to be handled differently. What is happening at the moment does not respect the place or human life. The state is obligated to take responsibility for it,” he says.
Former police chief Assaf Hefetz has told Channel 12 he does not believe police are to blame for the deaths at Meron.
“Police trained for such an event. [The force] did what it knows to do, and did it well,” he says.
“The failure is governmental, in the political structure… this entire system creates pressures that cannot be withstood.”
He also calls for a halt to festivities at Meron for 4-5 years until decisions are made as to how it can be conducted safely.
President Reuven Rivlin visits the National Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir in Tel Aviv, and thanks staff for their work over the weekend to identify the many victims of the Meron crush.
“These last days have demanded extraordinary fortitude from you,” he says. “Thanks to your dedication and devotion, you allowed the families to lay their loved ones to rest respectfully and in accordance with their views.”
He adds that it is “hard to grasp the pain of the families” who due to Shabbat could not know the definite fate of their loved ones until Saturday night.
“I am with you in your pain; all Israelis are with you in your pain.”
The head of the United Torah Judaism party, Moshe Gafni, tells Kan Bet Radio that the Mt. Meron site “looks like Eastern Asia. The place hasn’t been touched since the establishment of the state.”
He adds: “You can’t have so many people come to such a small space and not have a disaster.”
He says he personally knows several people whose family members were killed on Thursday night.
“It’s horrible,” he says. “The State of Israel has never known such a thing. Each of them was an entire world.”
There are currently no active coronavirus cases in the Israel Defense Forces for the first time since the start of the outbreak, the military says.
The IDF reported its first COVID-19 case on March 2, 2020, when a soldier who worked part-time at a toy store was documented with the disease.
Last week, the military had just one soldier who had contracted the coronavirus, but he appears to have recovered.
“The achievement we marked this morning is a significant milestone in our fight against the virus — thanks to the efforts of IDF service members and the national vaccination effort,” IDF Chief Medical Officer Brig. Gen. Dr. Alon Glasberg says in a statement.
In March, the military declared that it had reached “herd immunity” from the disease as more than 80 percent of all servicemembers had been vaccinated or had recovered from the coronavirus.
Iran’s foreign minister apologizes for recorded comments that were leaked to the public last week, creating a firestorm in Iran less than two months before presidential elections.
The recordings of Mohammad Javad Zarif included frank comments on powerful late Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2020. The attack at the time brought the US and Iran to the brink of war. Soleimani’s funeral processions in Iran drew millions of people to the streets.
In the recordings, Zarif criticizes Soleimani’s separate relations with Russia and his refusal to stop using the national carrier Iran Air for Syrian operations despite Zarif’s objections. Iran Air has been sanctioned by the US.
Zarif says in an Instagram post he hopes Soleimani’s family will forgive him. “I hope that the great people of Iran and all the lovers of General [Soleimani] and especially the great family of Soleimani, will forgive me,” he says.
Zarif’s leaked comments were highly controversial in Iran, where officials mind their words amid a cutthroat political environment that includes the powerful Revolutionary Guard, ultimately overseen by the country’s supreme leader.
Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner says she expects the government to form a state commission of inquiry into events at Meron.
Dorner tells Kan Bet Radio, “It is clear there were many problems with warnings going back decades.”
She acknowledges that the current government is dysfunctional but “we still need someone to govern us.”
She says such a commission would not be focused on assigning blame, but on inquiring and making recommendations. “We need to check what happened objectively.”
In an interview two hours before the Meron disaster, the head of the Religious Affairs Ministry’s holy sites administration spoke of apprehension over crowding at the site and claimed police were ultimately responsible for the event — an assertion police officials have contested since the crush that killed 45 people there on Thursday.
“We are constantly in apprehension that all the systems function correctly,” Yossi Schwinger, head of the National Center for Development of Holy Places, told a Haredi journalist. “That God forbid some mother’s child isn’t in danger of suffocating due to a crush and crowding.”
When the reporter noted the police seemed especially tense due to the huge volume of people there, Schwinger noted that earlier he too had been pushed around by crowds and at one point “children were almost crushed. It was an unpleasant sight.”
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 2, 2021
But he added: “People think if there was crowding, the [Center] didn’t manage things properly.” However, he said, “the manager [of the event] is the Israel Police. We budget everything, plan everything but here on the ground, safety-wise it’s the Israel Police.”
Since the tragedy, current and former police officials have said police can only do so much in light of the massive political pressure to allow the event to go forward without limitations on numbers, and have every year done their best to secure the site but have not been given the tools to truly ensure the safety of worshipers by restricting attendance.
In Rome, during his Sunday homily, Pope Francis says: “With sadness I express my closeness to the people of Israel [for the Meron disaster].”
Francis says he will remember the 45 victims and their families in his prayers.
Avigdor Hayut, who lost his 13-year-old son Yedidia at Mt. Meron, meets the father of Moshe Levy, a friend of Yedidia who was with them at the event and who perished as well.
Hayut breaks down in sobs as he meets Levy’s father David. “I did what I could,” he says.
שני נערים מתלמוד תורה "אמרי דוד" שזכו בפרס לנסוע בל"ג בעומר למירון, נסעו ולא חזרו ????
הנער משה לוי ז"ל
והנער ידידיה חיות ז"ל pic.twitter.com/TLypCLMCFL
— ינון עידאן (@yinon_idan) May 1, 2021
“I know,” Levy says.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 2, 2021
At the start of his faction’s weekly meeting, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz says there is no way he will cooperate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on forming a new government, full stop.
“Even if I’m asked hundreds of times, there is one clear answer: My door is entirely shut to Netanyahu. I am committed solely to the change bloc.”
The Union of Journalists in Israel has appealed to the attorney general to stop plans by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to shutter Army Radio, a part-civilian part-military broadcaster that has been operating since 1950 but whose relationship with the military has long been under question.
The union argues that as “a central waveband in Israeli public discourse, it is unthinkable to close it or make changes that will privatize it, destroying an important public resource.”
The union also argues that such a move should not be made under the current transitional government.
More than two days after the Meron disaster, one person who attended the event is still missing. Police are searching for 39-year-old Yitzhak Hecht of Beersheba.
His mother Sofia tells Kan news: “We’ve checked all the hospitals and haven’t found him.”
Sister Bracha tells Channel 12 he was seen after the disaster and “he apparently stayed to sleep there near the mikveh in tents.” She says the father of three has disappeared once before.
Only 13 new cases of coronavirus were diagnosed throughout Israel yesterday, the Health Ministry reports.
This is the lowest number of daily cases in 14 months.
Some 9,000 tests were carried out yesterday.
The gabai, or manager, of Mt. Meron’s local synagogue tells Channel 12 he believes the growing trend in recent years of more and more bonfire lighting ceremonies by various Haredi sects must stop.
“I’ve been here for 33 years. It’s not possible that every year there’s another bonfire for another Hasidic leader. I think and I suggest to all authorities… to cancel these bonfires,” Haim Ben-Shimon says.
“All of these bonfire lightings are to make money, and I know it. It’s not out of piety. Anyone who wants to light a candle can light a candle at home and have a festive meal at home,” he says.
“The original bonfire lighting here, for generations, was only the Hasidic leader of Boyan [dynasty]. But the other Hasidic leaders who suddenly decided to make lightings, I know personally these [events] are bought for hundreds of thousands of dollars.” He appears to be referring to proceeds from the events.
Iranian state TV is reporting that deals have been reached to release prisoners with Western ties held in Iran.
The state TV report quotes an anonymous official.
The official says a deal made between the US and Tehran will see a prisoner swap in exchange for the release of $7 billion frozen Iranian funds. Washington has not immediately acknowledged any deal.
State TV also quotes the official as saying a deal had been reached for the United Kingdom to pay 400 million pounds to see the release of a British-Iranian woman. The UK does not immediately acknowledge any such deal.
German Football Association (DFB) president Fritz Keller faces calls to resign after he sparked outrage by comparing his deputy to a Nazi judge.
Presidents of the DFB’s regional associations, which run Germany’s semi-professional and amateur leagues, announce after weekend crisis talks that Keller has lost a vote of confidence and has been “asked to step down from his position.”
DFB general secretary Friedrich Curtius is likewise asked to vacate his role after losing a confidence vote.
The turmoil comes after Keller in a recent meeting likened DFB vice president Rainer Koch to Roland Freisler, the infamous head of the Nazi party’s court in the 1940s. Freisler was also a participant at 1942’s Wannsee Conference, where it was decided that 11 million European Jews should be put to death.
The remark triggered a storm of criticism and Keller has since apologized to Koch, acknowledging that his words were “totally inappropriate, notably towards the victims of Nazism.”
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett is hoping to get the presidential mandate to form a government with the support of the right-wing bloc — Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism, Walla news reports.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering the possibility, the report says.
Yamina is denying the report.
According to the report, the proposal is that if Bennett fails to form a government with Likud, he will support new elections — either a new parliamentary vote or a direct vote for the premiership.
Amit Hadad, an attorney for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his corruption trial, is also seeking to represent victims of the Meron disaster in a potential lawsuit against authorities, according to multiple Hebrew media reports.
Questions have arisen regarding potential conflicts of interest, as Netanyahu’s conduct will also likely be examined as part of a probe into the disaster.
The Israel Bar Association says it will look into the matter if a complaint is made.
Hadad has not commented explicitly on the reports, telling Channel 12: “It’s unfortunate that some are cynically trying to connect the terrible tragedy and the prime minister’s representation. This is unfounded.”
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price denies a prisoner swap has been agreed upon with Iran.
“Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true,” Price says. “As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”
Tehran holds four known Americans now in prison. They include Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz and Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi.
Syria’s President Bashar Assad issues a decree authorizing the release of prisoners, including those convicted for misdemeanors or complicity in acts of “terrorism,” state media says.
The so-called general amnesty comes weeks before the May 26 presidential election, the second such polls since the start of the country’s decade-long civil war. Assad is widely expected to secure a fourth term.
SANA news agency publishes the decree but does not say how many prisoners will benefit.
The amnesty stipulates that pardons will be granted to prisoners convicted for crimes committed before May 2, 2021, including those convicted for misdemeanors as well as minors facing certain charges.
The decree includes crimes related to the terrorism act of 2012, including “conspiracy” to commit a “terrorist” act. “Terrorism” is a term used by Damascus to encompass acts carried out by rebels and anti-regime activists.
A shooting attack has taken place at Tapuah Junction in the West Bank, east of the city of Ariel.
One person is in critical condition and another is in serious condition, while a third was lightly hurt, paramedics say. The injured were taken to Beilinson Medical Center.
Reports indicate the attack was a drive-by shooting directed at a number of young people standing at a bus stop.
The military says it is aware of reports of a drive-by shooting and forces are heading to the scene. Troops are hunting for the shooters.
An infant has died in the southern community of Segev Shalom, police say.
The one-year-old was apparently roaming outside her home when she was accidentally run over by her grandfather, 78. She was rushed to hospital in critical condition but could not be saved.
Police have launched an investigation.
The Israeli military says troops are setting up roadblocks in search of the vehicle suspected in the shooting attack at Tapuah junction.
It says soldiers at the scene at the time of the attack fired at the car, but it escaped.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited some of the people injured in the Mount Meron disaster.
At Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, Netanyahu says the casualties are “receiving wonderful care” and says some of the people there owe their lives to the rescue efforts by emergency services.
“Our hearts are with the wounded and we all pray and wish for their full recovery.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slams as a “big mistake” leaked remarks by Mohammad Javad Zarif, in which the foreign minister suggested the military was too influential in diplomacy.
“The country’s policies are made of different economic, military, social, scientific and cultural plans, including foreign relations and diplomacy,” Khamenei says in televised remarks.
Saying “that one part denies the other or contradicts… is a big mistake that must not be perpetrated by officials of the Islamic Republic,” he adds, in reference to leaked audio comments made by Zarif.
Police say Yitzhak Hecht, the last person unaccounted for in the wake of the Meron disaster, has been found,
Hecht, 39 of Beersheba, had not made contact with his family since Thursday night.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz vows that the military will track down the terrorists who opened fire at a group of Israeli civilians, seriously injuring two of them and lightly wounding a third, in the northern West Bank.
“The IDF and security forces will not rest until they get their hands on the terrorists who carried out the attack,” Gantz says.
The defense minister adds that he wishes a speedy recovery to the three victims.
Hamas praises the shooting attack by Palestinian terrorists at Tapuah Junction near Nablus that left three Israelis injured.
“This comes as the natural response to the crimes of the Zionist occupation and an act of support for our people in the city of Jerusalem,” Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif Qanou says in a statement.
This is a legitimate aspect of our Palestinian people’s resistance in the West Bank, and we salute the rebellious heroes of the West Bank.”
Islamic Jihad hails “the courageous operation. We consider it a message in the name of the entire Palestinian people that Jerusalem is a red line and harming the holy places will cause an explosion of anger in the face of the occupation.”
The funeral of a young man from Canada killed in Meron is now taking place in Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot.
Hundreds are attending the service for Dov Steinmetz, 21. His family arrived from Montreal today to attend.
Security camera footage of the shooting attack emerges, showing the moments the shots were fired.
In the video, a silver SUV is seen pulling up next to the bus stop and stopping short — at roughly the 16-second mark — before someone inside opens fire. The civilians and a soldier who was at the scene are seen scrambling to take cover behind a concrete barrier, as the car then speeds off toward Ramallah.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers well-wishes to the wounded “in the cruel shooting attack at Tapuah Junction.”
He says security forces “are chasing after the suspects, and I am certain they well catch them as soon as possible.
“We will not allow terrorism to raise its head, and we’ll strike our enemies hard.”
Beilinson Hospital says doctors are working to stabilize the conditions of two yeshiva students who were gravely wounded in a shooting attack in the northern West Bank earlier.
According to a hospital spokesperson, one of the victims is in critical condition and the second is in very serious condition.
The third yeshiva student injured in the attack sustained light injuries.
All three are 19 years old, according to the Petah Tikva hospital.
“The families of the victims are on their way to the hospital,” the spokesperson says.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeals to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit 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,” he writes to him.
He adds that “only a state commission will be able to manage all aspects of an investigation into the disaster.”
Such a panel “will not bring families back their loved ones or help their pain, but it can prevent such a disaster from happening in the future,” he says.”
The funeral of Daniel Morris, the 19-year old from New Jersey killed in Meron, is now taking place in Nof Ayalon in central Israel.
The funeral is being live-streamed here.
The Palestinian woman who was shot during an attempted stabbing attack at Gush Etzion Junction has died of her wounds, according to the hospital where she was receiving treatment.
The woman, 60-year-old Fahima al-Hroub from the nearby village of Husan, approached a group of soldiers with a knife in her hand and tried to stab the troops, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Footage of the incident showed al-Hroub walking toward the soldiers, even as they shouted at her repeatedly to stop and fired warning shots in the air.
ניסיון דקירה מחבלת מתאבדת pic.twitter.com/uYRvLfQ9CB
— israel lives matter ☺☺☺☺ (@Skay53867153) May 2, 2021
One of the soldiers then shot her in the upper body, and she was taken to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in critical condition, according to the United Hatzalah medical organization.
Doctors pronounced her dead several hours later, the hospital says.
Palestinians are reporting clashes with Israeli security forces in the village of Beita, south of Nablus.
The Israeli military is conducting searches in the region, in the wake of the shooting attack earlier that wounded three Israelis.
כוחותינו פשטו על העיירה ביתא, דרומית לשכם. https://t.co/j2b4HqX4Mo
— baron28 (@Baron28Baron286) May 2, 2021
Top Biden administration officials and US senators crisscross the Middle East, seeking to assuage growing unease among Gulf Arab partners over America’s re-engagement with Iran and other policy shifts in the region.
The trips come as the US and Iran, through intermediaries in Vienna, discuss a return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that former president Donald Trump abandoned three years ago. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies, excluded from Obama-era nuclear negotiations, have repeatedly pressed for a seat at the table, insisting that any return to the accord must address Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies.
Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat of Delaware and a key Biden ally dispatched on overseas diplomatic missions, tells reporters in the UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi that he hopes to allay the sheikhdom’s “understandable and legitimate concerns” about the return to the landmark deal and to create “broader engagement” with Gulf partners.
Coons says “close consultation” with the UAE about the ongoing talks in Vienna was “important, expected and happening,” adding that he hopes the Emiratis “may not just be notified, but actually help.”
What that means remains unclear, as Gulf states now watch with resignation as negotiations gain traction in the Austrian capital. When asked to elaborate, Coons balks at the suggestion that the UAE’s input had acquired any greater significance in talks with Iran over the last five years.
“I did not in any way mean to suggest that there was some deal in the works where the Emiratis would be securing anything,” he says. “Vienna is the place where the United States government, the administration, is negotiating.”
In a tour intended to boost “long-standing political, economic, cultural, and security ties,” several senior Biden administration officials are touring Arab capitals, with Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department, among others, stopping in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Amman and Cairo this week.
I’ll tell you the truth: Life here in Israel isn’t always easy. But it's full of beauty and meaning.
I'm proud to work at The Times of Israel alongside colleagues who pour their hearts into their work day in, day out, to capture the complexity of this extraordinary place.
I believe our reporting sets an important tone of honesty and decency that's essential to understand what's really happening in Israel. It takes a lot of time, commitment and hard work from our team to get this right.
Your support, through membership in The Times of Israel Community, enables us to continue our work. Would you join our Community today?
Sarah Tuttle Singer, New Media Editor
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.