Israel shuts down festival early after pilgrims assail safety curbs

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Spiritual leader Nachum Dov Brayer leads the celebration marking the annual Lag B'Omer celebrations with ecstatic all-night dances and singing at the Meron mountain in northern Israel May 18, 2022, after a crowd crush killed 45 people a year ago. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

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JERUSALEM, May 19 (Reuters) - 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.

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.

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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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Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Mark Porter

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