More than 40 dead in stampede at Jewish festival

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A stampede at a Jewish festival in northern Israel has left 44 people dead, according to official figures. Some 150 others were injured in the pilgrimage site of Meron, according to rescue workers.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox had been celebrating the Jewish holiday Lag Ba’Omer in Meron. Videos posted on social media before the disaster showed people crowded together and exuberantly singing, dancing and jumping. Authorities had limited the number of participants to 10,000, but according to media reports, up to ten times more people had arrived.

Exactly how the sudden mass panic occurred has not yet been conclusively determined – investigations are ongoing. According to initial findings, people began to slide on a sloping ramp with a metal floor and corrugated metal partitions on both sides. The densely packed revelers then fell over each other. Initial media reports had also mentioned the collapse of a grandstand.

In the morning hours, the first accusations were made against the police. They had let people into the cordoned-off area, although it was already extremely crowded. After the panic began, the police did not open the exits on the other side quickly enough, according to the criticism. A total of about 5,000 security personnel were on duty.

The injured were taken to six surrounding hospitals, some by rescue helicopter. Police closed access roads and cleared the area. However, hundreds of worshippers reportedly refused to leave because they wanted to pray. Clashes also broke out, not far from the scene of the panic, he said. “They are blocking us for no reason,” the Times of Israel quoted one attendee as saying. “I want to pray.”

Soldiers were also deployed, including an elite army unit. According to police, there were problems with cell phone reception, with many distraught people unable to reach relatives in Meron by phone.

The religious celebrations had been held despite the concerns of health authorities and are considered in Israel as one of the largest gatherings of people since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, worshippers had been denied access to the burial site because of the pandemic.
sources: cop/mxw/dpa/Reuters/orf.at/picture:screenshot – foxnews

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