Thousands bid farewell to 8 women killed in tragic Negev bus accident Wednesday .
(photo credit: YASSER OKBI/MAARIV HASHAVUA)
Mourners crowded a cemetery in the Beduin village of Hura to bid farewell on Wednesday to eight local women who died a day earlier when their bus was hit by tractor being carried by a passing truck on Route 31.
The victims, all of them grandmothers in their 50s and 60s, were on their way back from attending prayers at al-Aksa Mosque when the collision happened.
The funeral was attended by leaders from the Arab sector – including the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, and MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al) – in addition to thousands of locals from Hura, northeast of Beersheba, and surrounding villages.
On Wednesday morning, President Reuven Rivlin spoke by telephone with Hura Local Council head Muhammad al-Nabari.
“I wish to express, through you, my deepest condolences to the families. This is an awful tragedy. Such a human tragedy is beyond comprehension – how in one moment, so many beloved mothers and grandmothers could be lost,” the president said.
“This is a time for unity and coming together, a time when the community must look to embrace those who have lost their loved ones, and help them to look forward,” Rivlin told Nabari.
A day of mourning was declared in the Beduin village following the tragedy, which occurred on a stretch of highway that has long been known as one of the more dangerous in the country.
The driver of the truck, Salam Abu Ganem, was brought to Beersheba Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, where his remand was extended by 48 hours. He is suspected of negligence, though his attorney, Shai Gilad, said his client is a veteran driver who bears no blame for the accident. On Friday, Abu Ganem is to be released to five days of house arrest.
The driver of the bus was already released to house arrest on Tuesday night, after police questioned him.
Blame has been directed at authorities since the accident, with locals saying that not enough has been done to make the highway safer. On Wednesday, while police closed roads in the area in order to prevent congestion as thousands made their way to the funeral, there was no one on hand to direct traffic on Route 31 near the ceremony. Footage on news sites showed locals in reflector vests directing the traffic on the undivided highway, with police nowhere in sight.
Ali Abu Shahita, a relative of one of the victims, said on Wednesday: “The police have no time to deal with road safety,” adding: “They already have enough things to take care of – they have to clean out the rapists from their top leadership,” in a reference to a series of recent police sex scandals.
Renovation work on the road has been ongoing for the past three years, following a cabinet decision to improve safety conditions.
Nonetheless, it remains a dangerous, largely narrow and undivided highway.
Shmuel Aboav, head of the road safety organization Or Yarok, called on the Transportation Ministry to improve the infrastructure along the entire length of Route 31, saying it is a highly dangerous motorway and that “they don’t have to wait until there are more deaths.”
Yasser Okbi contributed to this report.