The crush occurred as tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the Galilee tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shim Bar Yochai for annual Lag B'Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.
Emergency services and ambulances "are treating dozens of injured" including "20 patients in a critical state", Zaki Heller, spokesperson for Magen David Adom, the Israeli emergency service, said in a statement. "A bad disaster of people who came to celebrate Lag B'Omer and were unfortunately crushed to death", said United Hatzalah vice president of operations Dov Maisel.
Dozens killed in stampede at Israeli holy site
Paramedics and ultra-Orthodox Jewish men stand next to covered bodies after dozens of people were killed and others injured after a grandstand collapsed in Meron, Israel, where tens of thousands of people were gathered to celebrate the festival of Lag Ba'omer at the site in northern Israel early on April 30, 2021.
On Twitter, Netanyahu called it a "heavy disaster" and added: "We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties". Numerous injured were evacuated to hospitals across the country. But officials later said it appeared that the casualties had been asphyxiated or trampled in the stampede.More news: Which six states gained Congressional seats; which seven lost seats?
Media estimated the crowd at about 100,000 people, and videos posted on social media showed scores of black-clad ultra-Orthodox men walking through narrow passages to the site.
Eli Beer, director of the Hatzalah rescue service, said he was horrified by how crowded the event was, saying the site was equipped to handle perhaps a quarter of the number who were there. The Israeli military said search and rescue troops and medical teams were scrambled.
It was the first huge religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted almost all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.More news: United Kingdom defense secretary denies ‘deeply unfair’ claims on Boris Johnson
Last year's celebration was restricted, but Israel's successful vaccination programme - one of the fastest in the world - has allowed it to lift many restrictions in recent months.
Ohana, a close ally of Netanyahu, thanked police for their hard work and dedication "for protecting the well-being and security for the many participants" as he wished the country a happy holiday.More news: No sign of Indonesian sub as air dwindles, search resumes