Israel holds a day of mourning for all victims who died in the terribly tragic stampede.

JERUSALEM : Flags were flown at half-mast Sunday as Israel held a national day of mourning for 45 men and boys/students killed in a stampede at a packed Jewish festival.

The deadly crush last Friday night at Mount Meron in northern Israel has been described as one of the worst peacetime disasters since the nation's founding in 1948.

At least 16 children and teens / students figured among those killed.

The fatalities include nine foreign nationals from the US, Canada, Argentina and the UK, as well as two French Israeli brothers, both minors.

The stampede broke out as tens of thousands of mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimmon Bar Yochai to commemorate the second-century Talmudic sage's death and mark Lag BaOmer holidays.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is also a caretaker justice minister, Sunday asked the attorney general to examine whether the current transitional government could launch a state commission of inquiry, Israel's highest level of investigation.

''Only a state commission of inquiry could take into account all elements of the disaster, since it has the broadest authority and tools to make the necessary recommendations,'' Gantz said in a letter distributed to the reporters.

Netanyahu has pledged a full investigation and multiple lawmakers have called for a formal commission of inquiry.

With the blue-and-white Israeli flag lowered outside public buildings, army bases and overseas embassies, calls for accountability were mounting Sunday.

''Take Responsibility,'' read the headline in Yediot Aharoinot daily, listing a range of officials with questions to answer.

The pilgrimage site was tightly restricted last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. There had been warnings of viral transmission again this year.

But with Israel having fully inoculated more than half of its 9.3 million residents, police did not stop the massive crowd even as it far exceeded the recommended health guidelines of 10,000 people at outdoor gatherings.

Beyond Covid risks, government agencies had sounded alarms through the years on crowds that could approach half a million people at a site with flimsy infrastructure. [AFP]


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