Israeli watchdog to investigate deadly festival stampede

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Behadrei Haredim

FILE - In this Friday, April 30, 2021 file photo, Israeli security officials and rescuers stand near bodies of victims who died during Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mt. Meron in northern Israel. Israel's government watchdog agency said Monday that it will launch an investigation into the deadly stampede at the religious festival over the weekend that left 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews dead. (Ishay Jerusalemite/Behadrei Haredim via AP, File)

JERUSALEM – Israel's governmental watchdog agency said Monday it would launch an investigation into the deadly stampede at a religious festival over the weekend that left 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews dead.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman told a press conference in Jerusalem his report would focus on the actions of decision makers, police and rescuers in the field.

“This is an event that could have been prevented,” he said. “I intend to open a special review that will investigate the circumstances that led to this disaster."

It was not immediately clear whether his announcement would end calls for an independent investigation.

Englman is seen as close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who relies on the political support of ultra-Orthodox parties and whose government has come under fire for allowing the mass gathering. Englman said he has had no contact with Netanyahu recently.

Speaking at a Knesset memorial hearing, Netanyahu said Israel "will investigate in an orderly, in-depth, and responsible manner all the issues relating to the gathering on the mountain in the present and past,” he said. “We will learn all the lessons for the future so that a disaster like this won’t repeat itself.”

Netanyahu did not specify what kind of investigation would be conducted or what authorities it would have to gather information or hand out punishments.

Other members of Knesset, including Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, called for an independent state commission of inquiry into the incident, which would have broad powers to investigate.