Dozens dead after horrific crush at religious festival in Israel

At least 38 people have been killed in a crush at a religious bonfire festival in Israel on Friday.

Videos from social media show the horrifying scenes of thousands of people tightly trapped and clambering though torn gaps in metal barriers as police and paramedics frantically tried to reach the wounded.

Tens of thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews had gathered at the tomb of the 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance at the Lag B'Omer event in northern Mount Meron.

Channel 12 TV put the number of dead at 38, while the Magen David Adom ambulance service said 103 people had been injured including dozen fatally.

Police shut down the site and ordered revellers to be evacuated by bus, as emergency services laid out bodies under covers on the ground.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the tragedy as a "heavy disaster” and said: “We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties.”

According to the newspaper Haaretz dozens of people have been injured, with six in a critical condition, 18 in serious condition, two in moderate condition and 39 sustaining light injuries.

Initially media reports said that a section of stadium seating had collapsed at the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron in the Galilee.

But officials later said it appeared that the casualties had been asphyxiated or trampled in a stampede.

It has been reported that the stampede was caused by people slipping on steps causing dozens more to fall over.

Speaking to Haaretz one witness said: “It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster."

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

The event had been held in defiance of health officials who had worried about the Covid risks, despite more than 50% of the country being vaccinated.

It is thought to be the largest event held in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Police said on Thursday that they had arrested two people for disrupting officers' efforts to keep order at the site.

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