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At least 44 dead at religious gathering

A stampede at a Jewish religious gathering in northern Israel killed at least 44 people and injured some 150 others early Friday, medical officials said, in one of the country’s deadlines civilian disasters.

About 100,000 people were crowded by Mount Meron before the stampede Thursday night to celebrate the holiday of Lag b’Omer, the New York Times estimated.

A Jewish holiday popular with ultra-Orthodox Jews, it honors Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2ndsecond century sage and mystic who is buried at the base of the mountain. The tomb is considered a holy site in Israel. 

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. “Close to 40 people died as a result of this tragedy,” he told the Army radio station.

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