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Dozens crushed to death in crowd at Israeli religious festival

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MOUNT MERON – Dozens of people were crushed to death in a crowd at a religious bonfire festival in Israel on Friday, doctors said, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “grave disaster.”

The infatuation came when tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews flocked to the grave in Galilee of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dancing.

Witnesses said people were suffocated or trampled in a tight hallway, some going unnoticed until the public address system sounded a call to disperse, as crowds filled the slope of Mount Meron in defiance of COVID-19 warnings.

The helicopters had transported injured people to hospitals in northern Israel, the Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance service said. The Israeli army said search and rescue troops and medical teams were scrambled.

Ambulance officials described the incident as a stampede and said 103 people had been injured, including dozens dead. Channel 12 put the death toll at 40. These included children, witnesses said.

“We were standing and waiting for our friends, we were going to go in for the dance and stuff and all of a sudden we saw the MDA paramedics running, like we were doing CPR on children,” Shlomo Katz, 36, told Reuters .


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Then he saw the ambulances leave “one after another” and realized that something had gone very wrong, “and we went to the side while the ambulances went in and out and we waited until we were able to get out slowly.”

The site is mostly gender-segregated and a video from viewers suggested the crush took place in one of the men’s sections.

Videos posted on social media showed chaotic scenes in which ultra-Orthodox men clambered through holes in corrugated iron sheets to escape infatuation. The bodies lay on stretchers in a hallway, covered with aluminum blankets.

A pilgrim who gave his name as Yitzhak told Channel 12 TV: “We thought that maybe there was a (bomb) alert about a suspicious package. Nobody imagined that this could happen here. Rejoicing turned into mourning, great light turned into deep darkness. “

He added: “Rabbi Shimon used to say that he could absolve the world … If he could not cancel this edict on the very day of his exaltation, then we have to do a real examination of conscience.”

With the site cleared, rescuers collapsed against the railings, some crying as their colleagues comforted them, according to video distributed by medical rescuers.

Netanyahu called it a “great disaster”, adding on Twitter: “We are all praying for the welfare of the victims.”

As rescuers tried to rescue the victims, the police closed the scene and ordered revelers to leave. The Transport Ministry halted road works in the area to allow ambulances and pilgrim buses to move unhindered. Military helicopters transported some victims to hospitals.


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The Mount Meron Tomb is considered one of the holiest places in the Jewish world and is an annual pilgrimage site. The event was thought to be one of the largest gatherings of people in Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.

Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions, but lockdown measures were eased this year amid Israel’s swift COVID-19 vaccination program that has seen more than 54% of the population. fully vaccinated. (Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell; written by Dan Williams; edited by Stephen Coates)


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