JERUSALEM ( Associated Press) — Police cracked down on a Jewish holy site in northern Israel as thousands of mostly ultra-Orthodox worshipers and revelers arrived Wednesday, a year after a chaotic stampede caused in part by the overcrowding left 45 dead.
This year, the Lag Ba’Omer celebration on Mount Meron occurred in order, but was overshadowed by the memory of last year’s deaths, the worst civil disaster in the nation’s history.
The roads leading to the mountain were jammed hours before the start of the festivities.
An independent commission of inquiry formed after the disaster examined the serious security flaws and overcrowding at the site and recommended limiting capacity and reformulating security protocols and infrastructure.
On this occasion, attendance was limited to 16,000 people, who had to get their tickets in advance. Police said some 8,000 officers would be tasked with keeping order at the scene.
According to Jewish tradition, a prominent 2nd-century rabbi is buried on the site, and pilgrims and worshipers have flocked there for centuries. The festival is characterized by its large bonfires, songs and dances.
On the other hand, the police reported that the day before they stopped a minibus in the vicinity of the mountain in which members of a radical ultra-Orthodox sect were traveling, carrying cutters, wire cutters, paint bombs and other tools with which the authorities suspect they were planning to carry out acts vandals on site. At least three people were arrested.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said before the festivities began at sunset on Wednesday that “the government of Israel has made a huge investment to enable wide and safe participation.”
“I ask the population to act in accordance with the published recommendations and arrive with a ticket so that we can celebrate the party safely,” he added.