Nearly 40 people were killed and over 100 injured in a stampede that broke out overnight at a Jewish religious gathering attended by tens of thousands of people in northern Israel, according to media reports on Friday.
The mass gathering was organised to celebrate the Lag B’Omer, an annual religious holiday marked with all-night bonfires, prayer and dancing, at Mount Meron.
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.
The stampede was caused after some revellers slipped on steps, causing dozens more people to fall over, according to police sources.
About 40 people were killed and 103 were injured in the stampede, the Jerusalem Post reported quoting Israel’s national emergency service Magen David Adom (MDA) as saying.
Some 44 people were in critical condition, with dozens of ambulances and six helicopters called to the scene to evacuate the injured, MDA said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as a “heavy disaster”.
A field hospital was set up at the scene. Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers worked to evacuate the injured and clear the crowds from the scene.
Phone service at the scene crashed as thousands attempted to contact family members and emergency services. Hundreds of worshipers refused to leave the site and clashed with police in an attempt to enter the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai after the incident, the report said.