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Top cop says he won’t let police be ‘scapegoated’ in Meron disaster

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai defends the police handling of security at the Mount Meron pilgrimage site, following the fatal crush last week that left 45 dead.

“I will not let the Israel Police become the scapegoat for the misconduct over the years by many authorities,” he says.

Following the disaster during Lag B’Omer celebrations, a picture has emerged of a facility caught in a years-long tug of war between various authorities, religious sects, and interest groups that left it bereft of proper, unified state oversight, even as constant warning bells were being sounded regarding its potential for catastrophe.

Rescue forces and police stand on the stairs where a mass of people were crushed to death and injured during the celebrations of the Lag B’Omer holiday on Mount Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Since the disaster, several former police chiefs have characterized Meron — Israel’s second-most visited Jewish holy site after the Western Wall — as a kind of extraterritorial facility. It was administered by several ultra-Orthodox groups, while the National Center for the Protection of Holy Places, part of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, apparently had some responsibility over it as well, as did the local authority, and the police. But ultimately, no single state body had full responsibility.

Some eyewitnesses have said police set up a checkpoint at the exit of the narrow walkway where the tragedy occurred, a claim contested by police.

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