International 30/04/2021

At least 44 crushed to death by crowd at Jewish religious festival in Israel

There are also at least 150 people injured, many of them critically, in the accident during the night of Lag B'Omer prayers, which drew 100,000 people

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Emergency crews at the site of the Lag B'Omer religious festival in Israel.

At least 44 people have been killed and more than 150 injured when they were trapped by crowds at a Jewish religious festival on Mount Meron in the Galilee, northern Israel. Thousands of ultra-Orthodox pilgrims were taking part last night in the Lag B'Omer celebration, in which Jews congregate for all-night prayers and religious dances. It was the most crowded event since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, as the country is now getting back to normal after vaccinating more than 60% of the population.

It is still unknown why, but at some point during the night, in the middle of a large crowd, dozens of people who were higher up fell on top of each other and dozens of pilgrims were crushed and suffocated, including some children. The local press reports that there were about 100,000 people gathered there.

Up to six helicopters and several ambulances were on the scene to transport the injured to hospitals in northern and central Israel. At least 14 of the 150 injured are hospitalised in critical condition, according to the national ambulance service.

Witnesses said people were trapped in a narrow passageway. According to the Times of Israel, dozens of pilgrims who were on a slippery walkway with a metal floor fell onto the ones below, causing a domino effect.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the tragedy a terrible "disaster" and sent his condolences to all those affected. The religious festival Lag B'Omer is celebrated around the tomb of the 2nd century AD rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, with an entire night of prayers, mystical chanting, and dancing.