Israel’s new government approved probe into deadly Mount Meron stampede that killed 45 people

The new government in Israel approved an inquiry into a stampede that killed 45 people and injured dozens at a Jewish pilgrimage site.

A full scale inquiry into the deaths were rejected by previous government amid feuding between its ultra-Orthodox Jewish and opposition politicians.

“The responsibility for learning the lessons and preventing the next disaster is on our shoulders,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday.

“A commission cannot bring back those who have perished, but the government can do everything to prevent unnecessary loss of life in the future.”

A cabinet statement said the inquiry’s findings would help safeguard other mass-attendance events in Israel, which has sites sacred to Islam and Christianity as well as to Judaism.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the Galilee hillside tomb of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on April 30 for the annual Lag B’Omer festival that includes all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

The numbers this year were lower than in previous years but still beyond those permitted by COVID-19 curbs.

Some Israelis questioned if the former government under Benjamin Netanyahu and police were reluctant to further limit the crowd size because of pressure from influential ultra-Orthodox leaders.

During the ceremony, part of the crowd surged into a narrow tunnel and the 45 men and boys were asphyxiated or trampled.

Police are already carrying out a probe and Israel’s government watchdog, which years ago deemed the Mount Meron site hazardous, has announced its own investigation, though it cannot bring criminal charges.

Netanyahu had promised a thorough investigation, but his cabinet, which included ultra-Orthodox Jewish ministers, never took formal action.

The commission of inquiry, headed by a judge, will have a budget of $1.8 million, the government said.