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2 killed, over 160 hurt as synagogue bleacher collapses near Jerusalem

Deadly incident in Givat Ze’ev occurs at celebrations just before start of Shavuot holiday; police say the unfinished building wasn’t approved for use

The site where a bleacher crowded with worshipers collapsed in a synagogue in Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem, at the start of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
The site where a bleacher crowded with worshipers collapsed in a synagogue in Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem, at the start of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Two people were killed and 167 injured, including five seriously, when a bleacher collapsed under celebrants in a Givat Ze’ev synagogue just before the start of the Shavuot festival on Sunday evening.

A video showed the ultra-Orthodox Karlin synagogue in the West Bank settlement, just north of Jerusalem, packed with male worshipers when the bleacher suddenly collapsed.

The wounded were taken to hospitals in Jerusalem. Medics and firefighters confirmed there were no people trapped beneath the bleacher after searching the area.

Magen David Adom said medics treated five people who were seriously injured, along with 10 people in moderate condition and 152 who suffered light injuries.

Some 60 Ultra-Orthodox Jews were injured when a synagogue bleacher collapsed in the Givat Zeev settlement north of Jerusalem on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, May 16, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

Medics later confirmed the deaths of a 40-year-old man and a 12-year-old boy. They were not immediately identified.

Some large ultra-Orthodox events feature bleachers, known as “tribunas” in Israel, which are packed with standing or dancing parishioners surrounding a central table where community leaders are seated.

The father of one of the injured told the Kan public broadcaster that just ten minutes before the collapse, attendees were told in a safety announcement to stop pushing one another.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said his heart went out to the victims. “IDF forces led by the Home Front Command and the Air Force are working to assist in the evacuation. I pray for the safety of the wounded,” he said.

Some 60 Ultra-Orthodox Jews were injured when a synagogue bleacher collapsed in the Givat Zeev settlement north of Jerusalem on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, May 16, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

The synagogue is located in an incomplete building and had not been approved for use, the police commander of the Jerusalem District told reporters.

A mass casualty event at a synagogue in Givat Ze’ev, near Jerusalem, May 16, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Documents published by the Kan public broadcaster showed the police and the Givat Ze’ev municipality trying to enforce an order banning Shavuot services at the unfinished Karlin synagogue.

In the documents, police warned the local council about the danger of allowing services at the building, which did not have an occupancy permit. However, when the local council asked police to step in to enforce the closure, police responded that it was the council’s job.

The site where a bleacher crowded with worshipers collapsed in a synagogue in Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem, at the start of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, May 16, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90

A spokesperson for the police told Channel 13 News that the force plans to investigate the deadly collapse.

The incident came 16 days after the Meron disaster, in which 45 people were crushed to death during a mass gathering of mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews to celebrate the Lag B’Omer holiday at Mount Meron.

A man looks at personal belongings at the site of the Lag B’Omer disaster, in which 45 people were killed, at Mount Meron in northern Israel, Friday, April 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Meron tragedy — Israel’s deadliest civilian peacetime disaster — occurred as thousands streamed through a narrow walkway at the southern exit of the Toldot Aharon compound on the mountain. The walkway was covered with metal flooring and may have been wet, causing some people to fall underfoot during the rush for the exit. Some apparently fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

Since the disaster, several former police chiefs have characterized Meron — Israel’s second-most visited Jewish holy site after the Western Wall — as a kind of extraterritorial facility. It was administered by several ultra-Orthodox groups, while the National Center for the Protection of Holy Places, part of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, apparently had some responsibility over it as well, as did the local authority, and the police. But ultimately, no single state body had full responsibility.

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