The Mount Meron stampede is "one of the worst disasters that Israel has experienced" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to the site.
"Our hearts are with the families and the wounded," he added, according to a specially recorded video for his Facebook page.
The stampede took place during celebrations for the religious festival of Lag B'Omer in the early hours of Friday and has so far claimed the lives of 45 people, according to the Israeli Health Ministry.
“There were heart-breaking scenes here,” Netanyahu said, referencing distressing images of “people who were crushed to death, including children.”
A “large portion” of the victims have still not been identified, Netanyahu said, urging people to “desist from spreading rumors on social media because this will break the families’ hearts.”
Netanyahu declared this coming Sunday “as a day of national mourning" and asked people to “come together for the sake of the families and pray for the well-being of the wounded.
The Israeli authorities had advised participants not to make the annual pilgrimage to the town of Meron this year in light of Covid-19 risks. Netanyahu said a “thorough investigation” would be conducted to “ensure a disaster like this does not happen again.
The prime minister commended the efforts of the “very fast police rescue and operation” adding that we “owe them great thanks for preventing a much bigger disaster.”