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Sabtu, 01 Mei 2021

Israel declares national day of mourning after 45 killed in religious stampede - ABC News

Israel's prime minister has declared Sunday a national day of mourning after dozens were killed and 150 injured at a religious bonfire festival. 

Medical teams are now working to identify the 45 people crushed to death in the stampede on the slopes of Israel's Mount Meron, with children among the dead.

Witnesses spoke of seeing a "pyramid" of people who were asphyxiated or trampled in a passageway around 3 metres wide at the crowded event in the Galilee.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Friday for the annual Lag B'Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the crush one of the "heaviest disasters" in Israeli history and promised a thorough investigation to ensure it did not happen again.

US President Joe Biden spoke with Mr Netanyahu to offer condolences, and said the United States was working to confirm reports that Americans may have died or been injured.

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Play Video. Duration: 43 seconds
Video shows chaotic scenes as people try to escape crush at Israeli bonfire festival.

By late Friday afternoon (local time), the Health Ministry said 32 of the dead had been identified, and 22 funerals for victims were held on Friday.

As sunset neared, the process was halted for 24 hours in observance of the Jewish Sabbath, and would resume on Saturday evening.

Police asked family members of those who were still missing to provide pictures and personal information to help with the identification process.

'It looked like a scene of a suicide bombing'

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Play Video. Duration: 33 seconds
Paramedics evacuate those injured from scene of Israel stampede

Crowds had packed the site in northern Israel despite warnings to maintain COVID-19 social distancing.

The festival was segregated by gender, and medics said the injuries and deaths were concentrated in the men's section.

Videos posted on social media in the minutes after the crush showed ultra-Orthodox men clambering desperately through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush.

People who stayed on the scene through the night questioned how the situation so quickly spiralled out of control, though there had been concern for years about safety risks at the annual event.

"There was some kind of mess, police, screaming, a big mess, and after half an hour it looked like a scene of a suicide bombing attack, numerous people coming out from there on stretchers," said 19-year-old festival-goer Hayim Cohen.

More than 100 people were injured, dozens critically, in the stampede.
The Justice Ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct connected to the tragedy.(

AP

)

"We were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff and all of a sudden we saw paramedics from (ambulance service) MDA running by, like mid-CPR on kids," said 36-year-old pilgrim Shlomo Katz.

An injured man lying on a hospital bed described how the crush began when a line of peopleStampede victim in the front of the surging crowd simply collapsed.

"People were piling up one on top of the other," he said.

The Mount Meron tomb is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and is an annual pilgrimage site.

The event was one of the largest gatherings in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic began more than a year ago.

The Justice Ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct connected to the tragedy.

Mourners in black suits carry a body wrapped in white cloth.
Funerals were held on Friday for 22 of the victims.(

AP: Ariel Schalit

)

A police spokesman said overall capacity at Mount Meron was similar to previous years but that this time bonfire areas were partitioned off as a COVID-19 precaution.

Israel media said that may have created unexpected choke-points on foot traffic.

Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions. But lockdown measures were eased this year amid Israel's rapid vaccination programme that has seen more than half of the population fully vaccinated.

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2021-04-30 23:49:45Z
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