At least 50 people were hurt, including at least 20 people in critical condition, after an apparent stampede after midnight Thursday at a mass gathering to celebrate the Lag B’Omer holiday at Mount Meron, medics said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident “a terrible disaster.”
The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear. Initial reports said a stand had collapsed at one of the concerts where 100,000 people were taking part in the events. However, the Magen David Adom rescue service said the tragedy was caused by overcrowding.
Meanwhile, the IDF, which sent its elite 669 rescue team to the site, said a roof had collapsed.
Magen David Adom said its paramedics were treating 50 people including at least 20 in a critical condition. The rescue service said 6 helicopters and dozens of ambulances were evacuating the wounded to the Ziv hospital in Safed and the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya.
Witnesses said many of the injured appeared unconscious. Rescue workers were attempting to set up a field hospital and dozens of ambulances could be seen trying to navigate through the huge crowds.
Video from the area before the collapse showed tens of thousands of people in the makeshift arena, dancing and jumping up and down on the stands to music.
לכבוד התנא: עשרות אלפים בהדלקה המרכזית של תולדות אהרן שמרעידה את הההר מצד לצד pic.twitter.com/b2pMQsXv1z
— משה ויסברג (@moshe_nayes) April 29, 2021
By midnight Thursday organizers estimated that some 100,000 people were at the site, with an additional 100,000 expected to arrive by Friday morning.
Police were trying to clear the crowds from the scene to allow access to ambulances. Loudspeakers called in Yiddish and Hebrew for people to make way and let rescuers forward.
Israel’s Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who was on one of the stages at the time of the collapse remained there with other leading rabbis, saying psalms for the wounded.
President Reuven Rivlin tweeted that he was watching developments with great trepidation and praying for those who were hurt.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident “a terrible disaster,” and offered his support to rescue workers at the scene.
שידור חי | הר מירון https://t.co/0n7N0q4UEa
— חדשות ישראל (@thenewsil) April 29, 2021
The huge gathering, the largest in Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus, had already sparked health fears.
Due to the large crowds, police said they were unable to enforce coronavirus restrictions at the site.
In past years, hundreds of thousands of people attended the celebrations in the northern Galilee, which include visits to the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai and massive bonfires on the mountainside.
Earlier in the evening, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said it treated 148 people at Mount Meron during the day, including eight who were taken to Ziv Medical Center in nearby Safed for further treatment.
Most were treated for fainting, heart problems, light injuries and exhaustion, though two attendees were in critical condition at the medical center: An 80-year-old man who lost consciousness and was evacuated as medics attempted to resuscitate him, and a 40-year-old who was evacuated after suffering an acute allergic reaction.
A top Health Ministry official urged Israelis not to travel to Mount Meron, worried the festivities could lead to mass coronavirus contagion.
Despite the rules and the deployment of 5,000 officers to safeguard the event, police officials said they lacked the manpower to enforce the “green pass” requirement. It was acknowledged earlier Thursday that organizers would not be able to guarantee that unvaccinated people won’t be in the crowds.