TWO pairs of young brothers are among the 45 killed in the devastating Lag B'Omer festival stampede as panicked crowds funnelled into a tiny "death trap" tunnel.
The disaster unfolded in Meron, Israel, shortly after midnight as Jewish worshippers were left gasping for air and others were crushed to death.
As survivors tell of the horrific scenes, the names of two pairs of young brothers who died in the incident have been revealed.
Yosef and Moshe Elhadad, aged 18 and 12, from northern Israel, and Moshe and Joshua Englander, aged 14 and nine, from Jeruselum were all killed.
Others who lost their lives in the stampede were Yosef Amram and Eliezer Tzvi Yoza'af, 26, from America, father-of-11 Shimon Matalon, 38, and Shraga Gestetner, a rabbi and signer from Montreal.
Dad-of-four Rabbi Elizer Goldberg, 37, also died during the horror incident, as well as Menahem Zeckbach, whose wife is pregnant with their second child, and 20-year-old Moshe Ben Shalom.
In keeping with Orthodox tradition, funerals have already begun for the victims.
More than 100,000 people packed onto Mount Meron for the largest gathering held in the country since the Covid outbreak began.
Survivors have told of the horrific scenes at the religious festival, with chaos ensuing when attendees slipped on a narrow metal walkway as thousands tried to leave – causing the deadly crush as bodies piled into each other, injuring at least 150.
One survivor who was rushed hospital told public broadcaster Kan that he was left lying on someone who wasn't breathing.
He said: "There were screams, chaos. I saw children underneath me. The only thing going through my mind was that I didn't want my child to be an orphan."
Another survivor named David told Ynet: "Our bodies were swept along by themselves. People were thrown up in the air, others were crushed on the ground.
To my sorrow, we found small children who had been crushed, we tried to resuscitate them and managed in a few cases to save them
“There was a kid there who kept pinching my leg, fighting for his life. We waited to be rescued for 15 to 20 minutes in this crazy, terrible crush. it was awful.”
Another pilgrim said attendees were being pushed and pulled.
"After 20 minutes I think people started suffocating so they wanted to get out, but no-one was able to get out," he said.
There were people under me who were not breathing anymore. There were horrible screams of 'I can't breathe'."
An early police investigation revealed that the slip created a "human avalanche", Ynet news reported.
Witnesses claimed cops blocked the exit – and a police chief has admitted that the tunnel was dangerous.
Eli Beer, the head of the Hatzalah rescue services organisation, said young children were among the victims.
“To my sorrow, we found small children who had been crushed, we tried to resuscitate them and managed in a few cases to save them,” he said.
“We have to wake up, it’s shocking how many people were allowed to enter."
Only 10,000 people were supposed to attend the event but a crowd of 100,000 turned up.
Shoes, hats, baby strollers, smashed glasses and water bottles were left strewn on the ground in the walkway, while metal railings were ripped from the ground.
It comes as…
- Survivors claim that police were ‘blocking’ the exits during the crush horror
- Eyewitnesses said they saw kids being crushed to death during the chaos
- Worshippers claim crowds slipping on a walkway started death crush
- A probe is being launched into the conduct of cops during the mayhem
- Only 10,000 were supposed to attend but there was a crowd of 100,000
A probe has been launched into the possibility that police negligence caused the stampede.
Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi, who oversaw the security arrangements at the site, said Friday morning that he took responsibility for the disaster.
“I bear overall responsibility, for better or worse, and am ready for any investigation,” he said.
He added that the precise cause of the disaster remained unclear.
Investigators have been sent to Meron to gather evidence.
What is the Lag B’Omer festival?
LAG B’Omer is a Jewish religious holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which began on March 28 and ends on May 16.
The day in the Hebrew month of Iya marks commemorates Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century.
The day marks when he revealed the secrets of kabbalah – a school of thought in Jewish mysticism – in the Zohar, or Book of Splendor.
The festival includes the lighting of bonfires, pilgrimages to the tomb of bar Yochai in Meron and customs at the tomb.
Another tradition that makes it a day of celebration is the anniversary of the plague that killed leading Jewish scholar Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples coming to an end around 100AD.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said: “It was decided that the Police Internal Investigations Department will immediately examine whether there are suspicions of criminality by police in the tragedy in Meron.”
Paramedic Dov Maisel described "chaotic" scenes as rescuers desperately scrambled to save as many lives as they could.
He told Good Morning Britain: "I started hearing screaming and shouting… and immediately all the teams were alerted to the scene.
"It's so troubling… many kids and teenagers were injured as well and families separated, it's chaos."
Mr Maisel said attendees were crushed as tens of thousands tried to force themselves through a narrow passageway.
It was decided that the Police Internal Investigations Department will immediately examine whether there are suspicions of criminality by police in the tragedy in Meron
He said: "It's a very small area on the mountain top, and thousands and thousands of people poured into this area, more than we expected.
"There was a bottleneck where people were squashed next to each other as they tried to get to an exit.
"People yelled behind them to stop people pushing through."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the tragedy as a "heavy disaster".
MDA spokesman Zaki Heller told Ynet news that the deaths were caused by severe overcrowding.
The mass gathering took place at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations when the structure collapsed.
Videos posted on social media showed chaotic scenes as Ultra-Orthodox men clambered through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush, as police and paramedics tried to reach the wounded.
The disaster is one of the worst peacetime tragedies in Israel’s history, matching the death toll from the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.
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