Israel holds day of mourning for 45 crush disaster victims – The Guardian

Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday for 45 people crushed to death at a Jewish religious festival, with flags lowered to half-mast and questions raised about accountability for one of the country’s worst civilian disasters.

In accordance with Jewish tradition, funerals were held with as little delay as possible. More than 20 of the victims of Friday’s disaster on Mount Meron were buried overnight after official identification was completed.

“I only wish that we achieve even a small fraction of your stature in studies and holy devotion,” Avigdor Chayut said, eulogising his 13-year-old son, Yedidya, at a funeral in the town of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.

The victims died when an overnight annual pilgrimage by large crowds of ultra-Orthodox faithful to the tomb of a second-century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in northern Israel ended in a crowd crush.

Witnesses described a “pyramid” of bodies, including several children, in a packed and slippery metal-floored passageway.

Israeli media estimated that around 100,000 people attended the event, numbers that underscored a relaxing of coronavirus restrictions in a country that has sped ahead of others in its vaccination rollout.

Evidence is mounting that it was a disaster waiting to happen at a pilgrimage site that state investigators had labelled years ago as hazardous. Questions are also being raised as to whether the government and police had been reluctant to reduce the crowd size so as not to anger influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians.

“A thorough inquiry is required,” the culture minister, Hili Tropper, told Kan public radio. “This terrible disaster will help everyone understand … that there should be no place where the state does not set the rules.”

The justice ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct.

Police and regional government officials said the Mount Meron site was administered by four separate private religious groups, making oversight difficult.

Witnesses recall deadly crowd crush in Israel – video
Witnesses recall deadly crowd crush in Israel – video

The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, promised an investigation. His presidential mandate to form a new government, after an inconclusive 23 March election, expires on Wednesday, but public calls to determine responsibility for the disaster seemed certain to hound any incoming administration.

The US embassy said US citizens were among the dead and injured, but did not immediately name them.

US media have identified some of the dead, including a 19-year-old who was in Israel on a gap year. Two Canadians were killed in the disaster, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said on Friday.

Condolences poured in from leaders around the world, including the US president, Joe Biden, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

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Israel holds day of mourning for 45 crush disaster victims – The Guardian

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