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At least 4 US citizens died at a religious festival

JERUSALEM – At least four Americans were among those killed after pressure on the slopes of Israel’s Mount Meron, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry said on Saturday when preparations for the funeral began.

Lior Hyatt told NBC News that the ministry was helping American families trying to enter the country.

“There are four families in the New York area that we are in contact with, and the consulate in New York is helping them,” Hyatt said. “There are two more families from Canada and one from Argentina, and we are also in touch with their families,” he added.

At least 45 people were killed and more than 1

00 were injured in the silence around 1 a.m. Local time on Friday (8:00 p.m. Thursday), which occurred during the Lag BaOmer celebrations on Mount Meron in northern Israel, near the tomb of ancient Jewish mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Israeli security officials and rescuers stand around the bodies of victims who died during the Lag BaOmer celebrations on Mount Meron in northern Israel on Friday.Ishai Jerusalem / AP

Every year, tens of thousands of people – mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews – flock to the area to celebrate the rabbi and light fires as part of the celebrations. The event was the first mass religious gathering held legally since Israel lifted almost all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Representative Josh Gottheimer, DN.J. in a tweet on Friday that one of his constituents, Donnie Morris, had died in the crash.

Rabbi Yehiel Morris, his uncle, confirmed his death to several media outlets, telling them that the 19-year-old had studied in Israel. NBC News was unable to independently verify these reports and contacted his family.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Israel said on Saturday that he was “working with local authorities to check if any additional US citizens are affected and providing all possible consular support to the affected US citizens and their loved ones.”

The Israeli Ministry of Health told Reuters that 32 of the dead had so far been identified by late Friday, but Hayat said observance of the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest, had halted the process until sunset on Saturday night. Many funerals are also expected to take place after this time, in accordance with religious practices.

He said the names of the dead Americans have not been confirmed, but identification is likely to be finalized by Sunday.

It’s not clear what caused the pressure, but videos show people being pulled back and forth by the huge momentum of the crowded crowd. Other images of the event show a crowd of people, mostly men dressed in black, spilling down a narrow aisle in the open.

US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and offered US assistance.

“The United States stands with the people of Israel and Jewish communities around the world in mourning the horrific tragedy in Mount Meron,” Biden said in a statement. “The loss of life among worshipers practicing their faith is heartbreaking.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that two Canadians were among the dead and said he was feeling “shock and sadness” in a statement on Friday. Other world leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also expressed their condolences.

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After visiting the scene on Friday, Netanyahu said it was “one of the worst disasters to affect the state of Israel.”

“We will conduct a thorough, serious and in-depth investigation to ensure that such a disaster does not happen again,” he said before declaring a national day of mourning on Sunday.

However, angry mobs appeared to mock Netanyahu during his visit, in videos posted on social media, as many blamed the government and police for the disaster.

Lavahez Jabari reports from Jerusalem and Adela Suliman from London.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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