Nearly 44 people were killed and over 150 injured in a stampede that broke out overnight at a Jewish religious gathering attended by tens of thousands of people in northern Israel, according to media reports on Friday.
The mass gathering was organised to celebrate the Lag B’Omer, an annual religious holiday marked with all-night bonfires, prayer and dancing, at Mount Meron.
The town is the site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century sage, and is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world.
The stampede was caused after some revellers slipped on steps, causing dozens more people to fall over, according to police.
According to the Times of Israel, organisers estimated that 100,000 people arrived on Thursday night, with more due to arrive on Friday.
Last year’s celebration was restricted, but Israel’s successful vaccination programme – one of the fastest in the world – has allowed it to lift many restrictions in recent months.
A field hospital was set up at the scene. Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers worked to evacuate the injured and clear the crowds from the scene.
Phone service at the scene crashed as thousands attempted to contact family members and emergency services.
Shortly after the incident, police closed traffic into the area and began evacuating visitors from the site.
The IDF said that it had sent soldiers from the rescue brigade and Israel Air Force helicopters to help at the scene.
Since the site was so densely populated, search and rescue authorities say they struggled to evacuate trapped people.