Netanyahu declares national day of mourning over Meron disaster

The prime minister said there would be “a thorough, serious and in-depth investigation in order to ensure that such a disaster does not recur.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday visited the Mt. Meron site in northern Israel where 45 people were crushed to death during what was supposed to be a festive commemoration. He declaring a national day of mourning for the victims.

“The Mt. Meron disaster is one of the worst disasters to hit the State of Israel. We grieve for the victims. Our hearts are with the families and with the wounded to whom we wish a full recovery,” Netanyahu said as security officials briefed him on how the tragedy occurrred.

“There were heartbreaking scenes here. People were crushed to death, including children. Many of the victims have still not been identified and I would like to avoid the dissemination of rumors on social media because this breaks the families’ hearts. Let the authorities work,” Netanyahu pleaded, thanking the rescue and security forces for preventing “far worse disaster.”

“I would like to declare Sunday as a day of national mourning,” said Netanyahu, who canceled Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting. “Let us all join in the grief of the families and pray for the well being of the injured.”

Netanyahu said there would be “a thorough, serious and in-depth investigation in order to ensure that such a disaster does not recur.”

The tragedy occurred around 1:30 in the morning as some people slipped on an inclined walkway, falling backwards on those behind them and creating a domino effect that crushed those trapped.

A crowd estimated at over 100,000 thronged to the Mt. Meron tomb of the revered sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for annual Lag B’Omer festivities that traditionally include all-night prayers, bonfires and celebrations.

Many faithful bring their infant sons to the event to give them their first haircut at age 3, and it is known that several children were among the victims.

Calls for an investigation came from across the political spectrum, but officials involved in the annual event over the years and veteran reporters who had covered the pilgrimmage said the Lag B’Omer festivities were known to be a ticking timebomb because to the chronic overcrowding and potential for the large crowds to get out of control.

“This is one of the most difficult disasters I have dealt with,” said Haim Spielberg, who has volunteered for years with the ZAKA rescue organization. “I saw dozens of people lying on the ground, having been pushed into a narrow passage. Everywhere, there were cries for help. Medics and paramedics were administering CPR on some of them.

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“There was the smell of death and bereavement in the air as more and more stretchers with lifeless people were carried from the scene.”