Dozens injured in stampede at religious gathering in Israel

A stampede broke out early Friday at a Jewish religious gathering attended by tens of thousands of people in northern Israel, injuring more than 100 people, dozens critically, Israel’s main rescue service said. Israeli media reported dozens of deaths.

The disaster occurred at the main celebrations of Lag BaOmer, a holiday when tens of thousands of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gather to honour Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century sage and mystic who is buried there. Large crowds traditionally light bonfires as part of the celebrations at Mount Meron.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “great tragedy,” and said everyone was praying for the victims.

The stampede happened after midnight, and the cause was not immediately clear. Videos circulating on social media showed large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews packed together in tight spaces.

WATCH | Dozens injured at Israeli religious gathering:

Eyewitness video shows worshippers pulling down barriers at a religious bonfire festival in northern Israel on Friday after a stampede at the base of Mount Meron. 0:34

A 24-year-old witness, identified only by his first name Dvir, told the Army Radio station that “masses of people were pushed into the same corner and a vortex was created.” He said a first row of people fell down, and then a second row, where he was standing, also began to fall down from the pressure of the stampede.

“I felt like I was about to die,” he said.

The Magen David Adom rescue service tweeted that it was treating 103 people, including 38 in critical condition. Israeli media had earlier reported that a grandstand collapsed, but the rescue service said all the injuries happened in a stampede.

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Israeli media, citing anonymous medical officials reported up to 40 people were killed, but the rescue service did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation. Photos from the scene showed rows of wrapped bodies.

The Israeli military said it had dispatched medics and search and rescue teams along with helicopters to assist with a “mass casualty incident” in the area. It did not provide details on the nature of the disaster.

It was the first huge religious gathering of its kind to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.

Health authorities had nevertheless warned against holding such a large gathering.

But when the celebrations started, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, police chief Yaakov Shabtai and other top officials visited the event and met with police, who had deployed 5,000 extra forces to maintain order.

Ohana, a close ally of Netanyahu, thanked police for their hard work and dedication “for protecting the well-being and security for the many participants” as he wished the country a happy holiday.

Netanyahu is struggling to form a governing coalition ahead of a Tuesday deadline. The national tragedy is sure to complicate those efforts.



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