Dozens of people have been killed in a stampede at a religious festival in the north-east of Israel.
Israel’s national emergency service Magen David Adom (MDA) confirmed the deaths without giving exact numbers, and said dozens more had been wounded.
Newspaper Haaretz reports at least 38 people have been killed. Emergency services are evacuating the injured.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as a “heavy disaster”, and said he was praying for the casualties.
Videos posted online show thousands of people tightly packed together and trying to flee the chaos at the site.
It is the largest event held in the country since the coronavirus pandemic began, with tens of thousands reportedly attending.
Dozens of ambulances are at the scene and emergency services have laid out bodies under covers on the ground. Police have asked everyone at the site to evacuate.
“It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster,” a witnesses told Haaretz.
Tragedy in Meron: MDA is fighting for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated.
38 are in critical condition and still in the field
6 in critical condition who were evacuated
18 injured severely
39 lightly pic.twitter.com/xUWStFYqQh
— Magen David Adom (@Mdais) April 30, 2021
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Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews make a pilgrimage to Meron each year for Lag B’Omer, an annual religious holiday marked with bonfires, prayer and dancing.
According to the Times of Israel, organisers estimated that 100,000 people arrived on Thursday night, with more set to arrive on Friday.
Last year’s celebration was called off, but Israel’s successful vaccination programme – one of the fastest in the world – has allowed it to lift many restrictions in recent months.
Officials said they had tried to control the crowds in Meron, but they later said they were not able to enforce coronavirus restrictions at the site.