- Isreali authorities had authorised 10,000 people to gather at the site of the tomb but organisers said more than 650 buses had been chartered from across Israel, bringing 30,000 pilgrims to Meron
A massive stampede at a densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site killed at least 44 people in northern Israel on Friday, blackening the country’s largest COVID-19-era gathering.
The nighttime disaster struck in Meron at the site of the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag BaOmer holiday.
Closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions, this year’s pilgrimage was expected to be a celebratory event in a nation that has largely re-opened thanks to a successful vaccination effort.
It had been “a tragic night,” Shimon Lavi, northern Israel’s police commander, told AFP, adding his officers did all they could to save lives, helping to ferry the injured to hospital.
The pilgrimage was the largest public gathering since the pandemic broke out, with reports of three times more participants, including children, than authorised by police.
Initial reports indicated the carnage began when a section of stadium seating collapsed but rescue workers later linked the casualties to a stampede.
A spokesman for the Magen David Adom, Israel’s rescue service, told AFP “there were 38 dead at the scene but there were more at the hospital.”
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A source at the northern Ziv hospital, one of several receiving casualties, told AFP it had recorded at least six deaths, taking the overall toll to 44.
The rescue service said it was treating 150 injured, six of them in serious condition.