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An Israeli police official who oversaw the security arrangements for the massive religious celebration where 45 people were killed in a stampede on Friday said he took responsibility for the disaster, according to a report.
“I bear overall responsibility, for better or worse, and am ready for any investigation,” Shimon Lavi, commander of the Northern District, told reporters hours after the tragedy, the Times of Israel reported.
Eyewitnesses accused police of blocking a key exit route at the bottom of a narrow passageway, which had for years been seen as a dangerous potential bottleneck, but Lavi said the exact cause of the tragedy is under investigation.
Early indications were that the fatal crushing occurred when large numbers of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox men, moved through the slanting walkway on the exit route from the Mount Meron site during the annual Lag Ba’omer festivities.
People began to trip and fall on each other, creating a catastrophic domino effect.
Police for a period blocked stairs at the bottom of the passageway, according to the Times of Israel, which cited a Channel 12 report.
There is an ongoing “complicated effort to gather evidence to reach the truth,” Lavi said, adding that cops saved lives during the stampede, pushing through the crowds to rescue people.
Public health chief Sharon Alroy-Preis, who had warned earlier this week that a massive gathering at the site could drive an outbreak of COVID-19, told Army Radio that the tragedy could have been averted if police had enforced the restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend.
“It was not possible to reach an agreement on who enforces the regulations at Mount Meron,” she said. “I remind you that the number of people allowed to gather outside is restricted to 100 — it is the responsibility of the police to enforce the laws of the State of Israel.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer his condolences, and said the US stood ready to offer assistance.
In a statement, he said the US also was working to confirm reports that Americans may have died or been wounded in the stampede.
With Post Wires
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