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Israel shuts down festival early after pilgrims assail safety curbs

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather around a bonfire at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in northern Israel on April 29, 2021 [JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images]
Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather around a bonfire at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron on 29 April 2021 [JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images]

Israeli authorities called an early close on Thursday to a religious bonfire festival after dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews rampaged against crowd-control measures meant to prevent a repeat of a crush that killed 45 people last year, Reuters reports.

TV stations showed pilgrims knocking down safety barricades and scuffling with police at the Meron tomb of second-century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, site of annual two-day celebrations that can draw as many as 200,000 people.

After the 2021 crush – Israel's worst civilian disaster – authorities limited the number of revellers allowed in at any one time and required that they arrive by authorised buses only.

The bus shuttle was shut down in the afternoon, hours before the festival's usual conclusion at sunset, organisers said.

"We apologise to the many pilgrims for the distress caused by a group of extremists who chose to violate public order," they said in a statement, adding that this conduct had created "an inability to maintain the safety standards set".

In a video of the confrontations aired on Channel 12, some of the ultra-Orthodox are heard yelling "Nazi, Nazi," at the police and throwing water bottles at security staff.

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