Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Monday fended off criticism for the Lag BaOmer festival on Mount Meron that ended in a disaster that took 45 lives and pointed an accusing finger at "many different bodies" for years-long neglect of the site.
"I won't let Israel Police become anybody's scapegoat for the continued misconduct of many different bodies that eventually blew up in the face of Israel Police which had to contain the event for years," Shabtai said at a police senior command meeting at the Northern District Headquarters in Nazareth.
"This is an unimaginably tragic event, the like of which the State of Israel never seen before… the police under my command is a strong and professional organization with high work ethic… I have no doubt that we will emerge from this crisis stronger. But we will not give up until we have learned and internalized what happened there and draw conclusions from it to ensure such an event will not happen again."
Shabtai said he fully backed Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi — who oversaw the festivities — and all other cops who took part in the preparations and the event itself.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana also joined the meeting to show his support for law enforcement.
"I dedicated my past several days mainly to visit the wounded and pay my respects to the families of those who perished. I hear from them, among other things, about the heroic stories of the policemen and first responders," Ohana said.
"And on the other hand, I hear about the media's attempts to drive a wedge between us. A wedge between the commissioner and the district commander, a wedge between the commissioner and the district commander and the minister, and a wedge between police and the public.
"I came here to tell you, in my own voice, that this won't happen. I fully back the district commander and the commissioner, who did everything they could to prepare for the festival. Together, we will empower the public and the police. Together, we will continue to work for the safety and security of the citizens of Israel. And together, we will work to empower the entire Israeli society."
Earlier Monday, 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."
Moreover, the organizers of the Mount Meron festival appeared to have ignored a major safety report on the religious site, issued just eight days before the disaster.
The National Fire and Rescue Services report, which was seen by Ynet, demanded that two separate paths be prepared to regulate the passage of people in and out of the Toldos Aharon compound, where the stampede occurred.