- A mass panic erupted during a Jewish festival in northern Israel, in which tens of thousands of people participated.
- At least 44 people were killed, according to Israeli media reports, citing rescue workers. Dozens were injured – some seriously.
- A spokesperson for the rescue service spoke of an “incredible disaster”.
The accident occurred on Mount Meron, about 50 km northeast of the coastal city of Haifa. Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox celebrated the Laj Ba Omer Jewish holiday when mass panic broke out. The victims were apparently crushed. The injured were taken to nearby hospitals.
It has yet to be clarified exactly how the sudden mass panic occurred – investigations are underway. According to the preliminary results, people slid down an inclined slope with a metal floor. Busy revelers fell on top of each other and the situation was completely out of control. It appears the emergency doors cannot be opened.
A spokesperson for the rescue service Zaka said on television that chaos reigned over the site and that many children had separated from their parents. One tries to hold them together again. “I’ve been working with the emergency services for over 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” the spokesperson said. “These are unbelievable numbers.”
An injured man at Rambam Hospital in Haifa said later that about 500 people were placed in a department that would normally hold about 50 people. “People fell in the first row, people did not see him on the top floor and pushed themselves further forward. One row fell on top of the other.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin wrote on Twitter that he was following reports of the tragedy and praying for the healing of the wounded. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was upset at the “dangerous accident” and reassured rescue workers of support. Health Minister Julie Edelstein spoke of a horrific disaster. He also expressed his condolences to the injured and thanked the rescue workers for their work.
Clashes with the police
After the accident, the police tried to evacuate the area. Access roads have been cordoned off. But according to media reports, hundreds of believers firmly refused to leave the scene.
And as The Times of Israel reported, they did not follow police instructions. There were also arguments. The newspaper quoted one of the attendees as saying, “They are preventing us for no reason.” “I wanted to pray.” Pictures of the confrontations were also shown on television.
Laj Ba Omar Jewish holiday
Lag-Ba-Omer is a festival commemorating, among other things, the Jewish uprising against the Roman occupiers under the leadership of rebel leader Bar Kochba. It erupted in the year 132 and was extinguished after about three years. According to tradition, the plague ended on the day of Laage Ba Omer, from which many religious Jewish students at that time died.
The authorities limited the number of participants in the Hajj to 10,000 pilgrims, but according to the organizers, at least 30,000 believers traveled from all over Israel. In media reports there was talk of 100,000 pilgrims. About 5,000 police officers were on site to secure the religious feast.
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