Dozens killed in crush at religious festival in Israel

Dozens of people have been killed in a crowd crush at a Jewish religious gathering in northern Israel attended by tens of thousands of people.

A rescue service spokesman said 28 people died in the crush early on Friday, according to Reuters. The Magen David Adom ambulance service said 103 people had been injured, including dozens fatally. Channel 12 TV put the number of dead at 38.

Magen David Adom posted the updated toll on Twitter, adding “MDA is fighting for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated.”

los Jerusalem Post said six helicopters were called to the scene to evacuate the injured.

Israeli media published an image of a row of bodies covered in plastic bags on the ground and videos posted on social media showed chaotic scenes as Ultra-Orthodox men clambered through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush, as police and paramedics tried to reach the wounded.

News websites had earlier reported that a grandstand collapsed, but the rescue service said all the injuries happened in a crowd crush.

“A serious disaster on Mount Meron,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the incident. “We are all praying for the recovery of the injured. I ask to strengthen the rescue forces operating in the area.”

Tens of thousands of people had gathered at the foot of Mount Meron to celebrate Lag BaOmer, a Jewish holiday honoring Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there.

It was the first huge religious gathering of its kind to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The country has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.

Authorities had authorised 10,000 people to gather at the site of the tomb but organisers said more than 650 buses had been chartered from across the country, bringing 30,000 pilgrims to Meron.

Alrededor 5,000 police had been deployed to secure the event, the country’s largest public gathering during the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a breaking story, please check back for updates…

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