According to the Times of Israel, Shimon Lavi, the police force’s Northern District Commander who supervised security preparations for Mount Meron’s mass Lag B’Omer celebrations, where 45 people were killed and more than 100 were critically injured in a stampede on Friday, admitted responsibility for the tragedy as criticism about how the accident could have been avoided mounted.
“I bear overall responsibility, for better or worse, and am ready for any investigation,” he told reporters hours after the stampede, which saw people fatally crushed due to massive crowding.
Witnesses said that police blocked a main exit at the bottom of a narrow passageway, which had been viewed as a dangerous possible bottleneck for years. However, Lavi said that the precise cause of the disaster is still being investigated, according to the Times of Israel.
It is unclear why police stopped people from fleeing the scene when the tragedy unfolded—something which could have relieved pressure on the crowd—but officers were clearly unaware of the gravity of the situation and were attempting to clear some areas of congregants.
According to witnesses and video recordings, the tragedy occurred as a large crowd rushed into a tunnel-like passage during the annual Lag B’Omer festivities at the foot of Mount Meron.
Witnesses said people started collapsing on top of each other at the end of the walkway as they ascended the slick metal stairs, according to the New York Post.
The video shows a massive crowd of people crammed into the tunnel, the majority of which are “black-clad ultra-Orthodox men,” said the Post. Witnesses told Haaretz that police barricades made it difficult for people to leave easily.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said that he met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to express his condolences and tell him that the US was prepared to help. He also said that the U.S. was trying to gather information on claims that Americans may have died or been wounded in the stampede.