The nighttime disaster struck after pilgrims thronged to Meron at the site of the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews mark the Lag BaOmer holiday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was helicoptered into the scene, tweeted that the “Mount Meron disaster” was “one of the worst to befall the State of Israel” since its foundation seven decades ago.

Closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions, this year’s pilgrimage drew tens of thousands of people who were seen packed together joyfully singing, dancing and lighting bonfires before the deadly crash.

Witnesses pointed the finger of blame at the police.

“There is an iron ramp going down from the site of a bonfire… It was very crowded… people had to walk down on this ramp in order to exit,” said Shmuel, an 18-year-old, told AFP.

The police “closed it (the ramp). Then, more people arrived, and more and more… and police wouldn’t let them exit, so people started to fall on top of each other”, he told AFP.

They “didn’t open it (the passageway) until it crashed and all the crowd was blown away to the sides. Tens of people were crushed”.

Northern Israel’s police chief Shimon Lavi told AFP his officers had done all they could to save lives on a “tragic night”, helping to ferry those injured to hospital.

The pilgrimage was the largest public gathering since the Covid-19 pandemic erupted early last year.

Ten thousand people had been authorised to attend the tomb compound, but Israeli media outlets said 90,000 people massed at the site, a figure that could not be immediately confirmed from official sources.

Initial reports had indicated the carnage began when a section of stadium seating collapsed but rescue workers later tied the casualties to the stampede.

“There were 38 dead at the scene but there were more at the hospital,” Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said, adding 150 were injured, including six in serious condition.

 

Another six deaths were recorded at the north’s Ziv hospital.

source: punchnews