Israeli police, Jewish pilgrims clash at beleaguered festival site

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Clashes erupted on Sunday between police and Jewish pilgrims at a religious festival site in northern Israel where three years ago 45 people died in a crowd crush, and which authorities closed this year due to rocket fire from Lebanon.

Since the 2021 tragedy at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage during the annual Lag B’Omer celebration, police have limited the number of attendees. The all-night sessions of prayer, mystical songs and dance had in previous years drawn crowds in the tens of thousands.

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This year’s festival was canceled since the site at Meron in the Galilee region has been targeted by rocket fire from Lebanon. Many northern Israeli towns have been evacuated since Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon began firing at them following Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, which sparked the war in Gaza. Both sides have traded blows since.

Despite the closure, police said they turned away thousands of pilgrims over the weekend, though hundreds managed to reach the site, where things got out of hand. The visitors damaged property and hurled objects at officers, police said. Nineteen officers were injured.

Israeli media reported that several people among the unauthorized crowd were hurt.

At least one officer was suspended for pushing an older man to the ground, and police said it was examining other incidents from the site.

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