Dozens killed and many more critically injured in Israeli bonfire festival disaster

Darnell Taylor
April 30, 2021

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had gathered at the tomb of the second-century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance.

Israeli security officials and rescuers carry a body of a victim of an apparent stampede during Lag Ba'Omer celebrations at Mt. Meron in northern Israel on Friday.

"The forces are assisting in the evacuation of injured and killed civilians and providing medical treatment at the scene", it added.

Initial reports indicated that the carnage began when a section of stadium seating collapsed but rescue workers later linked the casualties to a stampede.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a "terrible disaster". Hundreds of worshipers refused to leave the site and clashed with police in an attempt to enter the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai after the incident, the report said.

Almost 40 people were killed and over 100 injured in a stampede that broke out overnight at a Jewish religious gathering attended by tens of thousands of people in northern Israel, according to media reports on Friday.

Closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions, this year's pilgrimage at which bonfires are lit was expected to be a celebratory event in a nation that has largely re-opened thanks to a successful vaccination effort.

By Friday morning, Zaka, another ambulance service, said the death toll had risen to 44.

Dozens killed and many more critically injured in Israeli bonfire festival disaster
Dozens killed in stampede at Israeli holy site

Emergency services and ambulances "are treating dozens of injured", Zaki Heller, spokesperson for MDA, the Israeli emergency service, earlier said in a statement.

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

The army and emergency services deployed helicopters to evacuate the wounded.

Israeli media reported that at least 40 people were killed and published photos of rows of bodies. "It was a disaster", another witness told the newspaper.

Eli Beer, director of the Hatzalah rescue service, said he was horrified by how crowded the event was, saying the site was equipped to handle perhaps a quarter of the number who were there.

The country has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns late past year.

Yehuda Gottleib, one of the first responders from United Hatzalah, said he saw "dozens of people fall on top of one another during the collapse".

The event was severely restricted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but officials allowed it to go ahead this year and posted 5,000 officers for the occasion.

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