In what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “heavy disaster”, a stampede at a Jewish pilgrimage site in northern Israel killed dozens of people on Friday. Israeli media had earlier reported that a grandstand collapsed, but the rescue service said all the injuries happened in a stampede.
The mass gathering was held to celebrate the annual Lag B’Omer celebrations in remembrance of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai that include all-night prayer, songs and dance. Large crowds traditionally light bonfires as part of the celebration.
Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to Coronavirus restrictions. However, lockdown measures were eased this year amidst Israel’s rapid Covid-19 vaccination.
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. The rescue service said 6 helicopters and dozens of ambulances were evacuating the wounded to the Ziv hospital in Safed and the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya.
And while, the cause of the stampede, which occurred late at night has not been ascertained yet, videos posted on social media captured chaotic scenes as men clambered to escape the crush. Witnesses said people were asphyxiated or trampled in a passageway, some going unnoticed until an announcement sounding an appeal to disperse.
Photos from the scene showed several wrapped bodies during the rescue work.