Israeli security officers and rescuers carry the body of a victim who died during Lag Ba’Omer celebrations on Mount Meron in northern Israel, Friday, April 30, 2021.
MOUNT MERON: Dozens of people were killed in a stampede at a religious bonfire festival in Israel on Friday, doctors said, as the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “serious disaster”.
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had crowded into the Galilee 2nd century tomb of the sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for the annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dances.
Ecstatic crowds filled the Slope of Mount Meron defying Covid-19 warnings from health officials. Witnesses said people were suffocated or trampled in a passage, some going unnoticed until the public address system sounded a call to disperse.
“We thought that maybe there was a (bomb) alert about a suspicious package. No one imagined that this could happen here. Rejoicing turned into mourning, a great light turned into deep darkness,” said a pilgrim who gave his name. as Yitzhak on Channel 12 television. .
“Rabbi Shimon used to say that he could absolve the world … If he failed to cancel this edict on the very day of his exaltation, then we have to do a real soul-searching.”
Magen David Adom’s ambulance service said 103 people had been injured, including dozens who died. Channel 12 put the death toll at 40. These included children, witnesses said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “great disaster”, adding on Twitter: “We are all praying for the welfare of the victims.”
The Lag B’Omer event at Mount Meron was thought to be one of the largest gatherings of people, certainly in Israel and perhaps further afield, since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.
As rescuers tried to rescue the victims, the police closed the scene and ordered revelers to leave. The Ministry of Transport stopped road works in the area to allow ambulances and pilgrim buses to move unhindered. Military helicopters transported some victims to hospitals.
The Mount Meron Tomb is considered one of the holiest places in the Jewish world and is an annual pilgrimage site.
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.
Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions, but lockdown measures were eased this year amid Israel’s rapid Covid-19 vaccination program that has seen more than 50% of the population. fully vaccinated.