Thousands of Jewish pilgrims mark Lag BaOmer in Israel a year after deadly crush

Worshippers have flocked to Mount Meron for centuries

Ultra-Ortodox Jewish children scuffle with the police as they try to enter the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the northern Israeli village of Meron during the  holiday of Lag BaOmer that commemorates the Jewish scholar's death.  AFP
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Thousands of Jewish pilgrims gathered in northern Israel on Thursday to celebrate the Lag BaOmer holiday, a year after the festivities were marred by a crush which killed 45 worshippers.

Scuffles between police officers and some pilgrims broke out at Mount Meron, where officials have imposed new restrictions in a bid to prevent another deadly accident.

Matan Kahana, deputy religious services minister, said “tens of thousands celebrated” during the first few hours of the holiday.

Festivities got under way on Wednesday evening with the bonfire lighting by a rabbi, while worshippers also held a remembrance ceremony for those who died last year.

The Lag BaOmer holiday is traditionally marked by dancing and prayers at Mount Meron, which has drawn pilgrims for centuries.

An estimated 100,000 people had gathered there last year when crowds became trapped down a narrow passageway.

The deadly crush was Israel’s worst civilian disaster and prompted an overhaul of the Lag BaOmer celebrations.

On Thursday some pilgrims tore down barriers, police said, while two officers were wounded by stones thrown at them during a separate incident.

Officials have limited the capacity at Mount Meron to 16,000, with ticket-holders given a four-hour time slot to visit the site.

Police sealed off the area around the hillside with roadblocks and granted access only to shuttle buses and emergency vehicles.

Ahead of Lag BaOmer, police on Tuesday said they searched three children who were carrying wire cutters and knives. The youths had planned to use the tools to sabotage equipment at Mount Meron, the force said.

About 6,000 officers were brought in to police the event, while paramedics and ushers were stationed throughout the sloping site.

Medics said they had treated more than 90 people by Thursday afternoon, mostly for routine problems such as dehydration or falls.

Updated: May 19, 2022, 5:15 PM