In accordance with Jewish tradition, the funeral was held with the least possible delay. More than 20 of the victims of Friday’s Mount Meron disaster were buried overnight after official identification. “I only wish that we reach even a small fraction of your stature in studies and holy devotion,” said Avigdor Chayut, praising his 13-year-old son, Yedidya, at a burial in the town of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.
The victims died when an annual overnight pilgrimage by large crowds of ultra-Orthodox worshipers to the tomb of a second-century Jewish mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in northern Israel ended by a rush.
Witnesses described a pyramid of bodies, including several children, in a covered passage slipping on the metal floor.
At least 10 children and adolescents under the age of 18 were among the dead, according to a partial list of names released on Saturday. Two Montrealers, four Americans and an Argentinian were also among those killed. Two families each lost two children. The youngest victim was nine years old.
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Israeli media estimated that around 100,000 people attended the event, figures which pointed to an easing of coronavirus restrictions in a country that had outstripped others in its vaccination rollout.
Evidence was mounting that it was a disaster waiting to happen at a pilgrimage site that state investigators called dangerous years ago.
Questions were also raised as to whether the government and police were reluctant to downsize the crowd so as not to anger influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians.
“A full investigation is needed,” Culture Minister Hili Tropper told Kan public radio. “This terrible disaster will help everyone understand… that there should be no place where the state does not set the rules. “
The Justice Department said investigators would look into whether there had been police misconduct.
Israeli prime minister promises investigation
Police and regional government officials said the Mount Meron site was administered by four separate private religious groups, making surveillance difficult.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised an investigation. His presidential term to form a new government, after an inconclusive election on March 23, expires on Wednesday, but public calls to determine responsibility for the tragedy seemed certain to stalk any incoming administration.
The U.S. Embassy said U.S. citizens were among the dead and injured, but did not immediately name them.
US media have identified some of the dead, including a 19-year-old who was in Israel on a sabbatical year.
Condolences poured in from leaders around the world, including US President Joe Biden and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.