Israel stampede: What is the Lag B’Omer festival and what witnesses have said


At least 44 people have died after a stampede at a religious festival in Israel resulted in a crush.

More than 100 have been injured at the Lag B’Omer celebrations in Mount Meron, northern Israel.

The national ambulance service told Sky News that “scores” of people have died, with the death toll continuing to rise.

What do we know so far?

The crush happened just after midnight on Friday after tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered for annual Lag B’Omer celebrations in Mount Meron.

The exact cause of the stampede is not clear, but footage on social media shows men clambering through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron.

Local reports claim the stands collapsed, but witnesses say people fell as they tried to exit the main celebration via a narrow path.

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Early on Friday morning, officials from two ambulance services said 44 people were confirmed dead.

Magen David Adom said it was treating 103 patients, 38 of which are in a critical condition.

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Dozens of ambulances at stampede

What do witnesses say?

Yoni Yagodozsky, of the Israeli ambulance service, told Sky News: “In the beginning, there was concern that one of the construction sets built in the area had collapsed.

“While people were on the way down from the main ceremony, the path was narrow, and as people walked down they tripped over.

“Those behind them walked on them, and that’s what created this horrible, horrible incident.”

Emergency services deal with casualties
Emergency services deal with casualties at the site in Mount Meron

He added that mobile intensive care units and helicopters were used to transport the most seriously injured to hospital.

A 24-year-old witness who gave his first name as Dvir said “masses of people were pushed into the same corner and a vortex was created”.

He told Army Radio station that he saw one row of people fall, followed by a second row, where he was standing.

“I felt like I was about to die,” he said.

Zaki Heller, a Magen David Adom rescue service spokesman, said it happened very quickly.

“In one moment, we went from a happy event to an immense tragedy.”

A paramedic on the scene added that he had never seen anything like it.

He described it as a “mass casualty incident”, saying: “I see here tens of people laying on the floor, tens of injured, walking and bleeding, very difficult sights.”

Tens of thousands are seen singing and dancing earlier at the Lag B'Omer event
Tens of thousands are seen singing and dancing earlier at the Lag B’Omer event

What is the Lag B’Omer festival?

Lag B’Omer is an annual Jewish festival that takes place during the Hebrew month of Iyar.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims travel to Mount Meron each year to honour Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – a second century sage and mystic – believed to be buried there.

Large crowds sing, dance and light bonfires as part of the celebrations.

The event was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was allowed to take place this year following the success of Israel’s vaccination programme and the lifting of most restrictions.

But officials still warned of the risk of a COVID outbreak ahead of the event and have expressed their shock at the numbers that attended.

What have authorities said?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the tragedy as a “heavy disaster”, adding: “We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties.”

Before the event, public security minister Amir Ohana and police chief Yaakov Shabtai met with police to monitor celebrations – the first to take place legally since lockdown was lifted.

They said 5,000 extra officers had been deployed to maintain order.

Mr Ohana, a close ally of Mr Netanyahu, thanked the authorities for “protecting the wellbeing and security for the many participants”.

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