As many as 45 people were killed and another 150 were wounded during a stampede on Friday at a religious festival on Israel’s Mt. Meron, the Times of Israel reported.
The mass stampede incident took place during an event celebrating the Lag B’Omer Jewish religious holiday. The event on Mt. Meron in northern Israel was the largest gathering held in Israel since the beginning of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The event is believed to be the worst peacetime tragedy in modern Israeli history, with a death toll higher than the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire incident in which 44 people lost their lives.
Children were reportedly among the dead and injured in this most recent stampeded incident.
Video from the incident showed what looks like siding on a set of scaffolding being torn apart by high winds.
It is not entirely clear what triggered the stampede.
The Associated Press reported one injured individual, Avraham Leibe, told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that a crowd of people trying to descend the mountain caused a “general bedlam” on a slippery metal slope followed by stairs. “Nobody managed to halt,” Liebe said. “I saw one after the other fall.”
In a video tweeted by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news network, the network reported the incident may have been set off by either a set of stands or a roof collapsing or by a group crowding near an exit that had been blocked by police.
The Magen David Adom rescue service told the Times of Israel that overcrowding also caused the stampede.
Kan correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted, “#BREAKING: Israeli rescue service official confirms atleast 44 killed in stampede at religious Lag Baomer event, more then 150 injured” along with video footage of body bags gathered by emergency officials.
Following the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “On Sunday, we will hold a national day of mourning following the disaster on Mount Meron, one of the heaviest disasters to befall the State of Israel. We will all unite with the grief of the families and pray for the well-being of the wounded.”
Netanyahu further tweeted, “A large proportion of those who have perished have not yet been identified and I want to avoid spreading rumors on social media because this is tearing up the hearts of families. Let the authorities work. I must also point out that there was a rapid rescue operation by the police, the rescue and security forces and we are grateful to them – they prevented a much bigger disaster.”
Following the incident, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also tweeted, “We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy that occurred at Mt. Meron in Israel. We mourn the lives lost, extend our deepest condolences to the families, and pray for the injured to recover quickly.”