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Israeli cabinet orders investigation into deadly festival move

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Israel’s new government on Sunday approved an official investigation into a stampede in April in which 45 people were killed at a Jewish pilgrimage site long considered dangerously overcrowded by authorities.

Despite being the country’s worst civil disaster, a full-scale investigation into the Mount Meron deaths and dozens of injured was delayed under the previous government amid bickering between its ultra-Orthodox Jewish politicians and the opposition, according to Reuters.

In creating the state commission of inquiry a week after his swearing-in, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in televised remarks that if he “cannot bring back those who have left, the government can do anything to avoid future unnecessary losses “.

A cabinet statement said the investigation’s findings would help protect further mass events in Israel, which has sites sacred to Islam and Christianity as well as Judaism.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on April 30 at the Galilee hillside tomb of 2nd century sage Rabbi Shim Bar Yochai for the annual Lag BaOmer festival which includes all night prayers, chanting mystics and dances.

The numbers were lower than in previous years but still above those allowed by the COVID-19 curbs. Some Israelis have questioned whether the former government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the police were reluctant to further limit crowd size due to 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 suffocated or trampled on.

Police are already investigating and the Israeli government watchdog, which years ago deemed the Mount Meron site dangerous, has announced its own investigation, although it cannot

lay criminal charges.

Netanyahu had promised a full investigation, but his cabinet, which included ultra-Orthodox Jewish ministers, never took any formal action and major hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas erupted less than two weeks later.

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