By Vatican News staff writer
The nation is in shock awaiting news of those who remain critically injured in hospital. The victims were crushed to death when large numbers of people thronged a narrow tunnel-like passage during Orthodox Jewish celebrations of Lag BaOmer at Mount Meron.
It was first mass religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is estimated there were about 100,000 people present.
According to witnesses and video footage, people began falling on top of each other near the end of a walkway, as they descended slippery metal stairs.
Lag BaOmer draws tens of thousands of people, most of them ultra-Orthodox Jews, each year to honour Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there. Large crowds traditionally light bonfires, pray and dance as part of the celebrations.
Efforts are still ongoing to identify victims and connect families with missing relatives. In a race against time, funerals are to be held before sundown Friday, the start of the Jewish Sabbath when burials do not take place.
Authorities say it is one of the country’s deadliest civilian disasters. The death toll, so far, is on par with the number of people killed in a 2010 forest fire, which is believed to be the deadliest civilian tragedy in the country’s history.
150 people remain in hospital, with six in critical condition.