Israel holds day of mourning for stampede victims

Flags were flown at half-mast Sunday as Israel held a national day of mourning for 45 men and boys killed in a stampede at a packed Jewish festival.

The deadly crush on Friday night at Mount Meron in northern Israel has been described as one of the worst peacetime disasters since the nation’s founding in 1948.

The fatalities included nine foreign nationals from the US, Canada, Argentina and the UK, as well as two French-Israeli brothers, both minors.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is also caretaker justice minister, Sunday asked the attorney general to examine whether the current transitional government could launch a state commission of inquiry, Israel’s highest level of investigation.

Netanyahu has pledged a full investigation and multiple lawmakers have called for a formal commission of inquiry.

“Take Responsibility,” read the headline in Yediot Aharonot daily, listing a range of officials with questions to answer.

The pilgrimage site was tightly restricted last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But with Israel having fully inoculated more than half of its 9.3 million residents, police did not stop the massive crowd even as it far exceeded the recommended health guidelines of 10,000 people at outdoor gatherings.

In a 2008 report, Israel’s state comptroller had warned “the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is not prepared properly to take in tens and hundreds of thousands of people who arrive for mass events.”

Read the article in The Australian and The Weekly Times (AFP).