Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a full investigation into the deadly stampede at a Jewish religious festival in the town of Mount Meron, where he was booed by protesting relatives of the victims.
Visiting the scene, he said it was one of the worst disasters the country had known and an inquiry would ensure it did not happen again.
According to the Israeli media, protesters hurled empty bottles and shouted insults at Netanyahu, who travelled to the pilgrimage site in the north of the country, where at least 44 people died and 150 others were injured in the stampede during Lag BaOmer celebrations.
One man who gave his name as David told Ynet news it had felt like a human wave had broken: “Our bodies were swept along by themselves. People were thrown up in the air – others were crushed on the ground.”
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin’s office called for those in search of people still missing to contact the presidential office. “We will make every effort to find them,” he said.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visited some of the injured at Ziv Medical Center in northern Israel’s Safed on Friday morning.
Edelstein said almost all of the victims had been identified, reported the Israeli media.
The site includes several large gathering grounds with open-air stands and stages, connected by a network of alleyways and other paths. It was along one of those paths where witnesses said the crush of people began at around 01:00 local time.
Some witnesses said the incident had begun when police closed the passageway, said to be 3m (10ft) wide. Police sources told Haaretz newspaper some people had slipped on steps, causing dozens more to fall over. This was not officially confirmed.
An injured man lying on a hospital bed said a line of people in the front of the surging crowd had simply collapsed.
About 5,000 police had been deployed to secure the event, the country’s largest public gathering during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ecstatic crowds congregated despite warnings by health officials to avoid presenting COVID-19 risks.