Israel stampede: Netanyahu vows to investigate

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for an annual day of mourning, after at least 45 people were crushed to death at an overcrowded religious festival in the early hours of Friday (April 29).

Visiting the site hours later, he was heckled by angry protesters, but vowed to unearth the cause of the deadly incident:

"We will carry out a thorough, serious and in-depth investigation in order to ensure that such a disaster does not reoccur."

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had gathered at the Mount Meron tomb for the annual Lag B'Omer commemorations, which include all-night prayer and dance.

Ecstatic crowds assembled despite warnings to maintain social distancing against COVID-19.

A stampede ensued in the men’s section of the festival, according to medics, and casualties included children.

Some victims were asphyxiated or trampled on in a tightly packed passageway, and some went unnoticed until the PA system sounded an appeal to disperse.

Over 100 were wounded and videos on social media showed men trying to push through walls of iron to escape the crush.

Bodies lay on stretchers in a corridor, covered in foil blankets.

Hayim Cohen was among the attendees:

"I was there exactly when it happened, down there on the side. It started when a few paramedics started to run, and then there was some kind of mess, police, screaming, a big mess, and after half an hour it looked like a scene of a suicide bombing attack, numerous people coming out from there on stretchers."

A police spokesman said the overall capacity at Mount Meron was similar to previous years but that bonfire areas were partitioned off this time as a COVID-19 precaution.

Israeli media said that may have created unexpected choke-points on foot traffic.

The Justice Ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct connected to the tragedy.