Dozens killed at religious festival in Israel

At least 45 people have died in a stampede at a Jewish religious festival in northern Israel, authorities said on Friday. Dozens more wounded people were taken to six different hospitals. Some 150 people were injured according to Magen David Adom rescue group.

Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to the site in the town of Meron where he met police and others involved in rescue efforts. He announced a full investigation into the incident.

The event was attended by tens of thousands of people, making it the largest gathering in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic began. Emergency officials said 38 people were in critical condition at the site, with six more critically injured but evacuated and scores more wounded less seriously.

Early reports suggested a structure at the site collapsed, but officials later said it was the result of a stampede. According to police sources, it started after some attendees slipped on some steps, causing dozens more to fall. "It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster," a witness told the Haaretz newspaper.

Dozens of ambulances attended the scene and emergency services laid out bodies under foil covers on the ground. Police asked everyone at the site to evacuate.

Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews make a pilgrimage to Meron each year for Lag B'Omer, an annual religious holiday marked with all-night bonfires, prayer and dancing. The town is the site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century sage, and is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world. According to the Times of Israel, organisers estimated that 100,000 people arrived on Thursday night, with more due to arrive on Friday.

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