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Police chief on Meron stampede: I’m responsible, but perhaps not guilty

At a hearing over the Meron disaster, in which 45 people were killed in a stampede, police commissioner Kobi Shabtai says his position means he is responsible for anything that happens under his command, seemingly reversing earlier attempts to point at failures by others.

“I am responsible for anything that happens in the police,” he says. “The question is if responsibility equals guilt.”

Shabtai earlier appeared to shift responsibility onto others, telling a panel investigating the cause of the disaster that the local commander overseeing the northern Israel site would have had a better grasp of what is going on, and that engineering failures were to blame.

“The police chief is not going to go and check every bridge, every crossing and every path. Can I set a level of slipperiness? Incline?” he said.

He also blamed the government’s mercurial COVID-19 policies at the time which led to confusion that contributed to the catastrophe.

“In my opinion, the lack of ability of government ministries to to come to an agreement on coronavirus rules was reflected in the difficulties that accompanied the Meron disaster — the lack of will or ability of thee political leadership to deal with the event and the site itself,” he said, according to the Kan news site.

The stampede occurred at an annual spring pilgrimage to Mount Meron, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Some blamed the government, which at the time included Haredi coalition partners, for allowing the event to go ahead without curbs on crowd size. Forty-five people died in a crush on slippery makeshift ramp and many more were badly injured.

Last year, Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash told the commission that no government body had been willing to accept responsibility for ensuring COVID-19 policies were upheld during the annual event.

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