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National day of mourning in Israel after the Meron tragedy

The flags are at half mast this Sunday in Israel for a day of national mourning following the deaths of 45 people, including children, in a giant crowd on a pilgrimage bringing together tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews.

“Disaster”, “tragedy”, “government failure”: the front pages were all blacked out on Sunday for the first newspapers published in Israel since the stampede that took place early Friday morning at Mount Meron, in the north of the country, the press not posting on Saturday, Shabbat (rest) day.

The first funeral took place as early as Friday afternoon in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “one of the greatest disasters” in the history of the Hebrew state since its creation in 1948.

After a Shabbat break, funerals resumed on Saturday evening. And authorities announced Sunday that they had finished identifying the dead, including four Americans and two Canadians.

Whose fault is it ?

“Around midnight, the identification of all 45 victims (…) was completed. Forty-four remains have been given (to families) for burials and one last will be during the day, ”the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

“A disaster of such magnitude requires complex analytical work (…) We understand the demands of families for rapid analyzes, and we have acted in this direction without compromising professionalism,” said Dr. Chen Kugel , director of the Abu Kabir National Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv.

Blue and white flags set with the Star of David were at half mast on Sunday in front of government buildings on the occasion of a national mourning, while funerals multiplied, mainly in Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and that families were going through the Shiv’ah, a period of mourning of seven days.

On Saturday evening, citizens of Tel Aviv, a metropolis on the Mediterranean coast, organized a first ceremony by lighting candles in tribute to the victims.

“It touches me personally because I come from an ultra-Orthodox home. Until eight years ago, I too went on a pilgrimage to Meron. My parents were present in Meron this year and left an hour before the tragedy, Rachel, 28, told AFP on the spot.

“For 20 years, I also made the pilgrimage to Meron. Once, I also experienced a stampede (…) It was the scariest moment of my life, and I haven’t been back since, ”added Yael, another young woman as well. present at the ceremony.

Through the mourning, questions kept tormenting the Israelis: what really happened at Mount Meron? Whose fault is it ? Could the drama have been avoided?

According to the first indications, tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews were gathered on the night of Thursday to Friday at Mount Meron for the resumption of an annual pilgrimage, after a year of hiatus due to the pandemic, as part of the celebration. Jewess of Lag Baomer.

A minister in the hot seat

At around 12.50 a.m., on the sidelines of a “bonfire”, a mass of people left the scene but the exit required at one point to pass through a narrow corridor, which caused a bottleneck, people said. witnesses to AFP.

Worshipers, mostly young men and teenagers, were crushed in the panicked crowd. Northern Israel Police Chief Shimon Lavi has taken “responsibility” for this tragedy.

But this declaration did not end the debate on those responsible for this tragedy, especially as many have been repeating for years that security at this gathering was often uncertain.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said this weekend to take “responsibility” without accepting “blame”.

And Transport Minister Miri Regev, close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was in the hot seat for having, according to the local press, chartered buses to allow ultra-Orthodox to go to this pilgrimage.

But the largest gathering since the start of the pandemic in Israel, a country mostly vaccinated and almost entirely deconfined, has turned into a tragedy.

The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, suggested Sunday that celebrations at Mount Meron “stretch for a week in the future” to avoid too large gatherings.

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