More than 100,000 religious Jews had gathered to mark the holiday at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai as part of an annual tradition.
At least 44 people were killed and dozens injured, some in critical condition, on Thursday night after a stampede broke out as massive crowds gathered at the Mount Meron religious bonfire-lighting ceremony in the north of Israel for the holiday of Lag Ba’omer, in what is being called one of the largest peacetime disasters in the nation’s history.
Magen David Adom said ‘’it is fighting for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated.’’
“We just finished treating one of Israel’s worst disasters. A terrible disaster of people who came to celebrate Lag B’Omer and were unfortunately crushed to death,” said United Hatzalah vice president of operations Dov Maisel.
“This was a very difficult site—sites that we have not seen here in Israel since the worst days of the terrorist wave back during the early 2000s,” he said.
The incident occurred as thousands of religious Jews were pushing each other down a crowded corridor and staircase. Victims were crushed under streaming crowds as emergency workers struggled to reach the scene. Many of the injured were evacuated to hospitals across the country.
The cause of the stampede was not immediately clear.
More than 100,000 worshippers had gathered at the foot of Mount Meron in northern Israel as they do annually to mark the holiday, gathering to visit the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and study texts. Bonfires are part of the tradition there and throughout the country.
Israeli officials had expressed concern about possible overcrowding at the site after last year’s festivities were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“A serious disaster on Mount Meron,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We are all praying for the recovery of the injured. I ask to strengthen the rescue forces operating in the area.”
Similarly, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he is following reports from Meron with “great anxiety” and praying for the wounded.