Health officials say 44 people were killed in a stampede at a religious festival in Israel.
The Health Ministry said on Friday 150 others were and have been taken to six different hospitals.
The mass gathering was organised to celebrate the Lag B”Omer, an annual religious holiday marked with all-night bonfires, prayer and dancing, at Mount Meron.
The town is the site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century sage, and is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world.
Authorities capped the number of participants at 10,000, but media reports indicated there might have been up to ten times as many people there.
Reports suggested that the stampede began when people started to slide on a sloping ramp with a metal floor and corrugated metal partitions on both sides, causing the densely packed revelers to fall over each other.
Witnesses however, accused the police of allowing people into a cordoned-off area even though it was already extremely crowded and of not opening the exits on either side quickly enough after a panic broke out.
Officials from Israel’s emergency rescue service Zaka has called the stampede a “national catastrophe”.
“It is an unbearable incident,’’ Motti Buckchin told Israeli news site ynet.
“44 people who wanted to experience joy and they came back in body bags,’’ he said.
“44 families for whom the world is collapsing. We cannot simply go back to business as usual now.’’
Around 150 people were also injured in the crush, rescue group Magen David Adom said.
The identification of victims began on Friday morning, as local media reported that people were still searching for their missing relatives.
It is expected that many of the victims will be buried during the day before the start of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. (dpa/NAN)