Dozens injured in stampede at big Israeli religious festival

Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron northern Israel where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night

Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron northern Israel where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night

Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, at Mount Meron, Israel April 30, 2021.

The Mount Meron tomb is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and it is an annual pilgrimage site.

The Magen David Adom, Israel's rescue service, reported dozens of dead and said it would "fight for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated".

Health authorities had nevertheless warned against holding such a large gathering.

Helicopters ferried injured people to hospitals and the military said search-and-rescue troops were scrambled.

A field hospital was set up at the scene.

"This was a very hard 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. Ambulances and helicopters soon arrived at the scene.

But when the celebrations started, the Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, police chief Yaakov Shabtai and other top officials visited the event and met with police, who had deployed 5,000 extra forces to maintain order.

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United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollack told The Jerusalem Post that the incident occurred when large crowds of people streamed into a closed-in complex, leading to dozens of people being crushed against fences.

Pollack added that people had come to the celebrations excited that they were finally able to celebrate like they used to after a year handling the coronavirus outbreak, and stressed how the great joy was suddenly broken by the disaster.

"We were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff and all of a sudden we saw paramedics from (ambulance service) MDA running by, like mid-CPR on kids", Shlomo Katz, 36, told Reuters.

Media estimated the crowd at about 100,000 people.

Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions, but lockdown measures were eased this year amid Israel's rapid COVID-19 vaccination programme that has seen more than 50% of the population fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Netanyahu requested that rescue authorities bolster their presence at the scene.

President Reuven Rivlin also tweeted that he was following the reports from Meron and praying for the recovery of the injured.

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