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Israeli watchdog to investigate the deadly stampede of the festival

The Israeli government’s oversight agency says it will launch an investigation into the deadly stampede at a religious festival over the weekend that left 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews dead

JERUSALEM – Israel’s government surveillance agency said on Monday it would launch an investigation into the deadly stampede at a religious festival over the weekend that left 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews dead.

State Controller Matanyahu Englman said at a news conference in Jerusalem that his report would focus on the actions of decision makers, police and rescue workers in the field.

“This is an event that could have been avoided,” he said. “I intend to open a special review that will investigate the circumstances that led to this disaster.”

It was not immediately clear whether his ad would end calls for an independent investigation.

Englman is seen as close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has the political support of ultra-Orthodox parties and whose government has been criticized for allowing the mass meeting. Englman said he has not had contact with Netanyahu recently.

Speaking at a Knesset memorial hearing, Netanyahu said Israel “will investigate in an orderly, thorough and responsible manner all issues related to the mountain meeting in the present and in the past,” he said. lessons for the future so that a disaster like this does not recur. “

Netanyahu did not specify what type of investigation would be conducted or what authorities would have to collect information or apply punishments.

Other members of the Knesset, including opposition leader Yair Lapid, convened an independent state commission of inquiry into the incident, which would have broad powers to investigate.

Israel’s attorney general informed Justice Minister Benny Gantz on Monday that there is no legal impediment that would prevent Israel’s transitional government from launching such an investigation.

About 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for a Lag BaOmer festival on Mount Meron in northern Israel, despite the coronavirus restrictions that limited open-air assemblies to 500 people and earlier warnings about the safety of such meetings. The state controller’s office, under one of Englman’s predecessors, issued two reports in 2008 and 2011 warning that conditions at Mount Meron were dangerous.

In the early hours of Friday, thousands of people leaving an area of ​​the site funneled through a narrow passage that went down the mountain. A smooth slope caused people to slide and fall, resulting in a human avalanche that killed 45 people and injured at least 150.

The tragedy brought renewed attention to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, where many disregarded coronavirus restrictions last year and some leaders refused to acknowledge the state’s authority. According to Israeli reports, ultra-Orthodox leaders have put strong pressure on the government to allow last week’s celebration to go on without any restrictions.

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