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Israel stampede: 44 killed at Mount Meron as Lag BaOmer religious festival ends in disaster

The i 30/04/2021 Jasmine Andersson
a group of people standing around a bus: c (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images) Photographer: JACK GUEZ Provider: AFP via Getty Images Source: AFP © Provided by The i c (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images) Photographer: JACK GUEZ Provider: AFP via Getty Images Source: AFP

At least 44 people have been killed in a stampede at an overcrowded Jewish religious festival in northern Israel.

A massive stampede at the densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site on Thursday night injured more than 150 others at the event near Mount Meron in the morning, with rescue workers facing chaotic crowds while trying to evacuate the injured.

Another six people were in a critical condition and 18 in a serious condition, according to the national ambulance service, Magen David Adom. It is one of the country’s deadliest civilian peacetime disasters.

Tens of thousands gathered near the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag BaOmer holiday.

By mid-morning Friday, efforts were still under way to identify victims and connect families with missing relatives. In the night from Thursday to Friday, cell phone coverage around Mount Meron had collapsed for hours and emergency hotlines were overwhelmed with phone calls.

“Masses of people were pushed into the same corner and a vortex was created,” a man identified only by his first name Dvir, told Israel Army Radio. He described a terrifying sight as the first row of people fell down. He said he was in the next row of people that tripped.

“I felt like I was about to die,” he said.

In the overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, officials were working with healthcare workers to connect the families of the missing.

“The picture is slowly becoming clearer,” Kivi Hess, a municipal spokesman, told Channel 13 TV.

The station published the photos of seven boys and teens and asked for help in locating them.

In a race against time, funerals were to be held before sundown Friday, the start of the Jewish Sabbath when burials do not take place.

Zaki Heller, spokesman for the Magen David Adom rescue service

Mr Heller told Israel Army Radio that “no one had ever dreamed” something like this could happen. “In one moment, we went from a happy event to an immense tragedy,” he said.

The Justice Ministry said Friday morning that the police’s internal investigations department was launching a probe into possible criminal misconduct by officers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the stampede a “great tragedy” and said everyone was praying for the victims.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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