At least 44 people were killed and as many as 150 injured, 23 of them critically, when a stampede broke out last night during Lag B’Omer festivities in Meron, in a compound used by the Hasidic Toldos Aharon community.
Over 100,000 people gathered in Meron to celebrate the festive night and day of Lag B’Omer, which is the Yahrzeit (anniversary of the passing) of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the second century sage who is believed to have authored the Zohar, the cornerstone text of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).
A preliminary police investigation revealed that as over 20,000 people walked through a narrow passage, some of the attendees slipped and fell down the stairs, creating a “human avalanche” that crushed members of the crowd. According to reports, the ground of the walkway was covered with slick metal flooring that may have been wet, causing some people to slip.
Ambulances and six IDF rescue helicopters evacuated the injured to Ziv Hospital in nearby Safed, to Rambam Hospital in Haifa and to the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya.
The PM visited the scene of the tragedy this morning and said that a national day of mourning would be held on Sunday. The attorney general ordered an investigation into how the police handled the events leading up to the disaster. In Jerusalem, Mayor Moshe Lion ordered the flags of the state and the city to fly at half mast. Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said an independent investigation was needed into all aspects of the planning and execution of the tragic event.
Social workers who speak Yiddish, which is a common language among the more conservative ultra-Orthodox communities, were dispatched to the Abu Kabir forensics institute in Tel Aviv, where the bodies of the victims were being identified.
President Reuven Rivlin said last night, “I have been following the reports from Meron in great shock, and I pray for the recovery of the injured. God please heal them.”
Jake Sullivan, White House National Security Advisor, said “Our hearts go out to the people of Israel tonight following the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron. We offer our condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones in this disaster, and wish a full and swift recovery to those injured.” Other world leaders expressed their shock and condolences.
A terrorist who attempted to stab a soldier and a policeman near the town of Efrat was shot and wounded.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and its ambassador to Washington on Thursday, and the Israeli officials expressed “deep concern” about Iran’s nuclear activities. The meeting in Washington followed talks this week between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart in which the Israeli delegation stressed their “freedom to operate” against Iran as they see fit. Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Reuters on Thursday that war would be sure to follow if the United States and other powers reached what Israel considers a bad new nuclear deal with Iran.
Negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their disputed maritime border will resume next week, according to a Lebanese newspaper report.