[Reuters] Dozens of people were crushed to death in a crowd at a religious bonfire festival in Israel on Friday, medics said, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “heavy disaster”.
The crush occurred as tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the Galilee tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.
Witnesses said people were asphyxiated or trampled in a tightly packed passageway, some going unnoticed until the PA system sounded an appeal to disperse, as crowds packed the Mount Meron slope in defiance of COVID-19 warnings.
Israel’s national emergency service Magen David Adom (MDA) confirmed the deaths without giving exact numbers, and said dozens more had been wounded.
Newspaper Haaretz reports at least 44 people have been killed. Emergency services are evacuating the injured.
The Lag B’Omer festival at the foot of Mount Meron is the largest event held in the country since the coronavirus pandemic began, with tens of thousands reportedly attending – despite concerns about spreading the virus.
Dozens of ambulances are at the scene and emergency services have laid out bodies under foil covers on the ground. Police have asked everyone at the site to evacuate.