/Dozens injured in stampede at big Israeli religious festival – The Associated Press

Dozens injured in stampede at big Israeli religious festival – The Associated Press


JERUSALEM (AP) — More than 100 people were injured, dozens critically, in a stampede at a Jewish religious gathering popular with ultra-Orthodox Jews in northern Israel attended by tens of thousands of people, Israel’s main rescue service said early Friday. Israeli media reported dozens of deaths.

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.

Israeli media reported that up to 38 people were killed, but the rescue service did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation. The Ynet news website was among those reporting the figure, and photos from the scene showed several wrapped bodies.

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 did not provide details on the nature of the disaster.

The incident happened late at night and there were conflicting reports. Videos circulating on social media showed large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews packed together in tight spaces.

It was not immediately clear what caused the stampede. But 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.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, had gathered at the foot of Mount Meron to celebrate Lag BaOmer, a Jewish holiday honoring Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there. Large crowds traditionally light bonfires as part of the celebration.

It was the first huge religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The country has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.

Health authorities had nevertheless warned against holding such a large gathering.

But when the celebrations started, the Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, police chief Yaakov Shabtai and other top officials visited the event and met with police, who had deployed 5,000 extra forces to maintain order.

Ohana, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thanked police for their hard work and dedication “for protecting the well-being and security for the many participants” as he wished the country a happy holiday.

Netanyahu is struggling to form a governing coalition ahead of a Tuesday deadline, and the national tragedy is sure to complicate those efforts.

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