Israel's government watchdog said on Monday it would open an investigation into the deaths of 45 people crushed in a stampede at a Lag BaOmer festival on Mount Meron last week.
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said his office, which audits the government, would look into the circumstances surrounding the event at the religious site in northern Israel.
"I wish to announce today that I intend to open a special audit that will investigate the circumstances that led to this tragedy," he said in a televised announcement.
Englman said that if the government decides to establish a commission of inquiry he may review whether his probe would have any relevance.
"The events of Thursday night were the worst civilian disaster in the history of the country, which could have been avoided. We are obligated to find out how such a tragedy could have been prevented," Engleman said.
The controller said that his office had issued a scathing report in 2008, in which he labeled the Mount Meron site as hazardous and recommended steps that must be taken to improve conditions on the ground.
Another report was published in 2011 after the comptroller's office followed up on its earlier finding and found that his recommendations were ignored. "Had the proper action been taken then, last week's disaster would not have taken place."
Engleman went on to say that both reports found that there was no government authority that had ultimate responsibility for the site or the organization of the religious festivities, the infrastructure on the ground was lacking and maintenance of the compound, insufficient.
"There were structures built without a permit and not according to codes, and access roads and emergency routes bellow standard."
The probe will concentrate on three major aspects:
1. The conduct of all decision-making processes and advance preparations including the actions of the police, ahead of the celebrations.
2. Maintenance of the site over the years and actions taken or ignored following earlier comptroller reports.
3. The necessary steps that must be taken to ensure religious festivities in Israel in the future are held safely and that a similar disaster never occurs again.
Engleman insisted he would not hesitate to name those personally responsible and if criminal liability is found, and will refer his findings to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
In the past, the comptroller, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019, was criticized for avoiding dplacing responsibility on specific position holders, making his findings less relevant.
Netanyahu said following the tragedy that his government will investigate the causes of the disaster but the calls for a commission of inquiry headed by a Supreme Court justice, were increasing. Such a commission is seen as free of political influences and better equipped to investigate witnesses and documents in its search for the truth.
In his 15 years as prime minister, Netanyahu resisted establishing a commission of inquiry into any major event.