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“We're all heartbroken”: Israel holds day of mourning for victims of religious festival stampede

CA, 02 May 2021
Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday for 45 people who died following a stampede at a religious festival, with flags lowered to half-staff and questions raised about accountability for one of the country's worst civilian disasters.

The stampede occurred during the celebrations of Lag BaOmer at Mount Meron. Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox faithful gather each year to honour second-century Jewish mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Israeli media outlets estimated that some 100,000 people attended the event, numbers that underscored a relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in a country that has sped ahead of others in its vaccination rollout.

People at the site on Sunday morning lit candles and held prayers in one of the synagogues in the compound.

"We're all heartbroken, saddened, shattered into million pieces. There are no words to describe the feeling of the entire country," said Rabbi Velvel Brevda.

The U.S. Embassy said U.S. citizens were among the dead and injured but did not immediately name them. Two Canadians were also killed in the disaster, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised an investigation.

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