© Reuters. Doctors and rescuers attend the Lag B’Omer event in Mount Meron in northern Israel, where deaths were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered.
By Dan Williams (NYSE 🙂
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Dozens of people were killed in a crowd at a religious bonfire festival in Israel on Friday, doctors said, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “major disaster.”
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had gathered at the Mount Meron tomb of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for the annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include prayer and dance throughout the night.
Ecstatic crowds gathered despite warnings from health officials to avoid posing COVID-19 risks. Witnesses said they realized that people had been suffocated or trampled when an organizer called through a megaphone for the crowd 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.”
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.
Magen David Adom’s ambulance service said 103 people had been injured, including dozens who died. Channel 12 put the death toll at 38. Police shut down the site and ordered revelers to leave. Military helicopters took the victims to hospitals.
The 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 gaps in sheets of broken corrugated iron to escape infatuation, as police and paramedics tried to reach the wounded.
The bodies lay on stretchers in a hallway, covered with aluminum blankets.
On Twitter, Netanyahu called it a “great disaster” and added: “We are all praying for the well-being of the victims.”
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 50% of the population. fully vaccinated.
Police said Thursday they had arrested two people for disrupting officers’ efforts to maintain order at the site.
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