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

Friday 30th April 2021 17:00 BST

About 150 people were injured and taken to hospital following 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.

Early on Friday morning, ambulance service officials said 44 people were confirmed dead.

Six people were in a critical condition in hospital, said Zaki Heller, a spokesman for the Magen David Adom ambulance service.

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."

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 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.

Mr Heller said it happened very quickly. "In one moment, we went from a happy event to an immense tragedy," he said.

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."

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".

UK prime minister Boris Johnson tweeted: "Devastating scenes at the Lag B'Omer festival in Israel. My thoughts are with the Israeli people and those who have lost loved ones in this tragedy."

Now On Air
The Weekenders with Glenn and Claire
Music and fun  [email protected]