Israel’s PM vows to investigate terrible crush that left dozens dead

Leah Sinclair
·3-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will investigate a disastrous stampede at a religious festival that left dozens of people dead.

At least 45 people were killed and 150 wounded at the Lag B’Omer festival, in Mount Meron, which drew in tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews.

It is uncertain what caused the crush.

During a visit to the scene on Friday, Mr Netanyahu said a "serious" investigation would be carried out "to ensure this kind of disaster never happens again".

“There were heart-breaking scenes here. People who were crushed to death, including children," Mr Netanyahu told reporters.

A “large portion” of the victims have still not been identified, Mr Netanyahu said, advising people to “desist from spreading rumors on social media because this will break families’ hearts.”

The prime minister said the "terrible disaster" was one of the worst in the nation’s history, adding that Sunday would be a day of national mourning.

“We will all join in the grief of the families and in prayer for the wounded,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu also praised the rescuers, whose “fast work” stopped “a much larger disaster.”

Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews came together at Mount Meron on Thursday for annual celebrations, which include all-night prayer, bonfires and dancing.

But at 1 am local time on Friday morning at least 45 people were killed in a stampede.

Videos posted online showed thousands of people trying to flee through a narrow passageway.

REUTERS
REUTERS

Avraham Leibe told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that a crush of people trying to descend the mountain caused "general bedlam" on a slippery metal slope followed by stairs.

"Nobody managed to halt," he said from a hospital bed. "I saw one after the other fall."

Footage showed large numbers of people, most of them Orthodox men, squeezed in the tunnel.

The Haaretz daily quoted witnesses as saying police barricades blocked people from exiting quickly.

"It was very crowded... people had to walk down on this ramp in order to exit," Shmuel, an 18-year-old attendee, told the AFP news agency.

"[The police] closed it. Then more people arrived, and more and more... and police wouldn’t let them exit, so people started to fall," he said.

Regional police chief, Shimon Lavi, told reporters at the scene: "I... take upon myself the overall responsibility, for good and for bad, and I am ready for every inspection".

He later told AFP that his officers had done all they could on a "tragic night".

The Justice Ministry said the police’s internal investigations department is launching a probe into possible criminal misconduct by officers.

Lag B’Omer was the first huge religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Large crowds traditionally light bonfires as part of the celebrations.

The gathering had been held in defiance of health officials who had worried that crowding could pose a Covid risk.

Israel has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.

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