Police chief Kobi Shabtai and Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi were at the scene of the stampede throughout the night overseeing operations to evacuate the wounded as well as the rest of the tens of thousands of pilgrims who came to the bonfire-lighting ceremony at the holy Jewish site.
Before the disaster began, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud) thanked Shabtai and the police forces in the Northern District for “ensuring public safety and order” in anticipation of the celebrations and massive crowds, N12 reported.
Police will investigate the circumstances that led to the stampede. Eyewitnesses said that the incident occurred when large crowds of people streamed into a closed-in complex, crushing dozens of people against fences. While all the injured were evacuated from the scene, many people required psychological aid, including medical volunteers.
Lavi said that he was prepared to take responsibility for what happened at Mount Meron.
“I am prepared for any investigation and review but I ask: Please wait with the results of the probe,” he told reporters at the mountain. “This was definitely not the responsibility of the police – and do not be quick to jump and grab onto this video or that video which is part of a much larger event.”
Lavi said that police were downloading all of the available video footage from the scene and were conducting a thorough review to determine what exactly led to the deadly stampede.
Calls were already coming out Friday morning for Israel to establish a commission of inquiry outside the police to probe what went wrong and led to the mass-casualty event.
Some of the pilgrims blamed the police for locking the gatherers in closed off areas, and essentially creating the crowd that then led to the stampede.
“A policeman saw the crowd but instead of opening an escape path for people, he threatened them with pepper spray,” Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Yossi Daitch who was at the scene told the Behadrei Hadarim website.
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