At least 44 people have been killed in a crush at a crowded religious festival in the north-east of Israel. Dozens more were injured at the Lag B’Omer festival, which takes place annually at the foot of Mount Meron.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as a “heavy disaster” and said he was praying for the casualties.
Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews attended the festival, making it the largest event in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic began. The country’s successful vaccination programme has allowed it to lift many restrictions, but health officials had still warned of the risk of Covid-19.
Early reports suggested a structure at the site had collapsed, but emergency officials later said a crush had occurred at around 01:00 local time (22:00 GMT Thursday).
Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews make a pilgrimage to Meron each year for Lag B’Omer, a religious holiday marked with all-night bonfires, prayer and dancing.
The town is the site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a revered second-century sage, who ordained that the anniversary of his death be commemorated with rejoicing of his life.
According to the Times of Israel, organisers estimated that 100,000 people arrived on Thursday night, with more due on Friday.
The attendance at the event was higher than it was last year when the festival was held under restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it was still smaller than in previous years when hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the site.
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