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Dozens injured in stampede at religious rally in Israel

JERUSALEM – More than 100 people were injured, dozens critically, in a stampede at a Jewish religious rally in northern Israel attended by tens of thousands, the main service said on Friday Israeli relief effort.

Magen David Adom tweeted that he was treating 103 people, 38 of them in critical condition. Israeli media previously reported that a grandstand collapsed, but rescue services said all injuries occurred in a stampede.

The incident happened late at night and there were conflicting reports of a grandstand falling.

Tens of thousands of people gathered at the foot of Mount Meron to celebrate Lag BaOmer, a Jewish holiday in honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there.

The tomb is considered one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and it is an annual pilgrimage site.

Videos posted to social media showed chaotic scenes as ultra-Orthodox men climbed through cracks in torn corrugated iron sheets to escape the crash, as police and paramedics tried to reach the injured .

The bodies lay on stretchers in a hallway, completely covered with aluminum blankets.

On Twitter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the situation “a disaster” and added: “We all pray for the well-being of the injured.”

The rally was held in defiance of health officials who feared overcrowding poses a risk of COVID-19.

Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions, but lockdown measures have been relaxed this year as part of Israel’s rapid COVID-19 vaccination program which saw more than 50% of the population fully immunized.

Police said on Thursday they had arrested two people for disrupting officers’ efforts to maintain order at the site.

It was the first large religious gathering of its kind to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The country has seen cases drop since one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns launched late last year.

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