02:43 GMT08 May 2021
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    At least 45 people died, and some 150 individuals were injured early Friday morning after a section of stadium seating in Mount Meron collapsed, triggering a stampede. Several of the deceased were trampled to death as the tens of thousands of people celebrating Lag BaOmer attempted to flee the venue.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a trip to Meron hours after the deadly incident occurred, only to be met with crowds of protesters - many of whom were related to the victims - who reportedly booed and threw bottles at him. 

    "In these moments our people unite and that is what we are doing at this moment as well," said Netanyahu, announcing that Sunday would be a national day of remembrance for the victims. 

    He also announced that a probe has been launched into what he believes is one of the "heaviest disasters" in Israeli history. 

    It's unclear if foul play occurred. 

    Furthermore, Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has urged the public to let the investigation take place before rushing to place blame. 

    It's unclear exactly how many people were in attendance for the religious celebration, which has been dubbed the largest Israeli event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

    Authorities reportedly expected 10,000 individuals to be in attendance, but organizers have said some 30,000 individuals showed up. 

    Some 5,000 police officers were deployed for the celebration.  

    © REUTERS / Ishay Yerushalmi/Behadrei Haredim
    Rescue and medical personnel are seen next to covered dead bodies on Mount Meron where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, April 30, 2021

    A police spokesperson told Reuters that the crowd size was similar to that of previous years. However, COVID-19 precautions this year forced organizers to close off bonfire areas at the venue, which may have caused the bottlenecking in foot traffic during the deadly stampede. 

    US President Joe Biden told his Israeli counterpart in a Friday phone call that the US "stand with the people of Israel, and with Jewish communities the world over, in mourning the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron," according to a White House statement

    "The loss of life among worshipers practicing their faith is heartbreaking," the statement read, noting US personnel have been instructed to offer assistance to the Israeli government. 


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    Benjamin Netanyahu, religion, Israel, stampede
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