At least 44 killed and many more injured at stampede at religious festival in Israel

30 April 2021, 05:57 | Updated: 30 April 2021, 11:59

More than 40 people killed in stampede at religious festival in Israel

By Asher McShane

At least 44 people have been killed in a stampede at a Jewish religious gathering in northern Israel.

Multiple deaths and serious injuries have been reported after a crush at the crowded Jewish festival of Lag B'Omer in Meron.

It was initially reported that the deaths were caused by a stage that collapsed but the cause is now understood to have been a stampede, leading to at least 40 fatalities and at least 150 people being rushed to hospital. The cause of the stampede is not clear.

LBC was told today health officials had spoken out against holding the event as a covid risk, but overcrowding caused an "avalanche" of bodies when the stampede started on the hill.

Over 100,000 people were present at the event before 40 died in a crush
Over 100,000 people were present at the event before 40 died in a crush. Picture: PA

Jerusalem-based journalist Noga Tarnopolsky told LBC: "Health ministry officials, I've been hearing them for days saying this shouldn't be allowed to go forth, it's not safe - they were concerned about Covid.

"It was just an uncontrolled, unregulated crush of people who basically... caused a human avalanche all the way down this mountain."

Eli Beer, director of Israeli ambulance service Hatzalah, said: "Close to 40 people died as a result of this tragedy."

Shlomo Katz was one of those at the event at the foot of Mount Meron. He said: “We were standing and waiting for our friends, we were going to go inside for the dancing. All of a sudden we saw paramedics running by.”

The disaster occurred at Mount Meron at the main celebrations of Lag B'Omer, a holiday when tens of thousands of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gather to honour Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "great tragedy"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "great tragedy". Picture: PA

Police said as many as 100,000 people had attended the event. The gathering was closed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this year's pilgrimage was allowed to go ahead and is believed to be the largest public gathering in the country since the pandemic began.

Zaki Heller, spokesman for Israeli rescue service Magen David Adom, said about 150 people were hospitalised in the stampede.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "great tragedy" and said everyone was praying for the victims.

Orthodox jews at the religious festival before the stampede occurred
Orthodox jews at the religious festival before the stampede occurred. Picture: PA

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

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.

Magen David Adom 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.

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

Large crowds traditionally light bonfires as part of the celebrations.

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

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