Israel news — latest: Day of national mourning announced after dozens killed in religious festival stampede

·1 min read
Handout picture from emergency services showing rescue efforts at Mount Meron after the stampede (Magen David Adom)
Handout picture from emergency services showing rescue efforts at Mount Meron after the stampede (Magen David Adom)

Israel will have a day of national mourning on Sunday after a stampede at a religious festival killed at least 45 people and injured many more.

Zaki Heller, a spokesperson for the Magen David Adom rescue service, said 150 people had been hospitalised, with six in critical condition, after the crush in the country’s northeast.

He told Israel Army Radio that “no one had ever dreamed” something like this could happen. “In one moment, we went from a happy event to an immense tragedy,” he said.

The crush occurred at the base of Mount Meron, as tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate Lag Ba’Omer, a holiday that in part commemorates second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose tomb sits at the site.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said it was “one of the worst disasters that has befallen the state of Israel” during a visit to the scene of the crush on Friday.

The stampede began when large numbers of people trying to exit the site thronged a narrow tunnel-like passage, according to witnesses and video footage.

People began falling on top of each other near the end of the walkway, as they descended slippery metal stairs, witnesses said.

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