Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Saturday gave his support to the commander who oversaw the security arrangements for the celebrations at Mount Meron which ended in tragedy when 45 people were killed in a stampede.
Associates of Shabtai told Hebrew-language news outlets that there was “full cooperation” between himself and Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi.
“Anyone who tries to put a wedge between [myself and Lavi] is misrepresenting the truth and does injustice to the [police] force,” Shabtai reportedly said.
According to the unnamed associates, Shabtai said that he and Lavi worked together on both the planning and execution of the event on Thursday night.
Shabtai has reportedly spoken with Lavi on the matter and told him that he has his full support.
The comments came after Lavi said Friday morning that he was accountable for the disaster and would cooperate with any investigation.
“I bear overall responsibility, for better or worse, and am ready for any investigation,” he told reporters hours after the tragedy.
Meanwhile, investigators were continuing to gather evidence at the scene of the mass-casualty event on Saturday as focus started to turn toward the matter of who was to blame for the packed conditions that led to the disaster.
As the initial shock and horror over the deadly crush began to subside, stark questions began to be directed at political, civil and law enforcement officials involved in planning, approving and securing the event, amid talk of a potential state commission of inquiry to thoroughly investigate the incident.
Two investigations into the failings that led to the deaths are set to move into high gear after Sunday’s day of national mourning for the victims — by the Police Internal Investigations Department, into police failings, and by the police into the failures of other authorities regarding the event.
Sixteen people remained hospitalized on Saturday morning, with a number of them in critical or serious condition.
However, there has been an improvement in the condition of an 11-year-old boy from Bnei Brak who was seriously injured at Meron, the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa announced. A spokesperson for the hospital said the child was sedated and put on a ventilator when he arrived at the medical center on Friday, but has now regained consciousness.
With 45 dead, including a number of children, and dozens injured, the disaster in the early hours of Friday appeared to be one of the worst peacetime tragedies in Israel’s history, surpassing the death toll of 44 from the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.
There have now been 32 victims identified at the Abu Kabir Forensic Center in Tel Aviv, with 22 released to relatives for burial.
The institute halted the identification process on Friday evening, following a ruling from the chief rabbi that it could not continue on the Sabbath. It was set to resume on Saturday evening.
The tragedy occurred when more than 100,000 people were attending the annual gathering on Thursday night in the northern Galilee, which includes visits to the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and massive bonfires on the mountainside.
A bonfire lighting ceremony for the Toldot Aharon Hasidic sect was being held at the pilgrimage area, close to Bar Yochai’s tomb.
As the dense crowds began to exit, some apparently slipped on the walkway, falling on those below and precipitating a stampede and fatal crushing, exacerbated by a reported police barrier at the bottom of the incline.
Pictures from the scene showed bodies covered in blankets and bags as well as the personal effects and shoes of those trapped in the crush.