WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to extend his condolences over the deadly stampede at the Lag Ba'Omer festivities in northern Israel that left at least 45 dead and over 150 injured.
According to a White House statement, Biden instructed his team to offer assistance to the government and people of Israel as they respond to the disaster at Mount Meron, where tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews were gathered to mark the holiday.
"The people of the United States and Israel are bound together by our families, our faiths, and our histories, and we will stand with our friends. Our prayers are with those who were injured and all those who lost loved ones. May their memories be a blessing," Biden said in his statement.
The statement added that the United States is also working to confirm reports of U.S. citizens that were killed or wounded in the incident, and that the U.S. Embassy and the State Department will work to support any U.S. citizen or family member affected by the event. Thus far, 32 of the 45 bodies of the victims have been identified.
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Late Thursday night, thousands gathered on spectator stands for the beginning of the Toldos Aharon Hasidic community’s bonfire-lighting ceremony on the mountain. At 12:50 A.M., following the lighting ceremony, when dancing began, a tightly packed crowd of hundreds of people headed towards the exit.
The Toldos Aharon section of the exit path is a narrow passageway with a smooth and sloped metal floor. As the minutes passed, the crowd became denser. There was nothing to hold onto and the people in the throng leaned on one another.
At 1 A.M., the disaster occurred when some at the site stumbled on the stairs. Many lost their footing, fell on top of one another, crushing the victims. Panic sparked attempts to escape, only exacerbating the situation, as hundreds who were trapped tried to find a way out.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also offered statements mourning the loss of life. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan to offer her condolences.
Erdan noted that he has also received support from multiple ambassadors based in the United States and the United Nations, where he also serves as Israel's envoy.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote a letter to President Reuven Rivlin on Friday expressing his sorrow at "the disaster that lead to the deaths of dozens of victims," and added, "we are praying for the victims and wishing a speedy recovery to the wounded.