JERUSALEM – Dozens of people have been killed and dozens more injured in a stampede at a Jewish religious rally in northern Israel attended by tens of thousands of people, said Friday. main Israeli rescue service.
Magen David Adom tweeted that dozens of people had died and that he was treating at least 10 people in critical condition after what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “serious disaster.” Israeli media had previously reported that a grandstand had collapsed, but rescue services said all of the injuries had occurred in a stampede.
The incident happened late at night and there were conflicting reports of a fall from a grandstand.
Tens of thousands of people gathered at the foot of Mount Meron to celebrate Lag BaOmer, a Jewish holiday in honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there.
The tomb is considered one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and it is an annual pilgrimage site.
Videos posted to social media showed chaotic scenes as ultra-Orthodox men climbed through cracks in torn corrugated iron sheets to escape the crash, as police and paramedics attempted to reach the injured .
The bodies lay on stretchers in a hallway, completely covered with aluminum blankets.
On Twitter, Netanyahu called the situation “a disaster” and added: “We all pray for the well-being of the injured.”
The rally was held in defiance of health officials who feared overcrowding poses a risk of COVID-19.
Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions, but lockdown measures have been relaxed this year as part of Israel’s rapid COVID-19 vaccination program which saw more than 50% of the population fully immunized.
Police said Thursday they had arrested two people for disrupting officers’ efforts to maintain order at the site.
It was the first large religious gathering of its kind to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The country has seen cases drop since one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns launched late last year.