Jerusalem, Apr 30 (PTI):
In one of the worst peacetime tragedies in Israel, at least 44 people were crushed to death and about 150 others injured in a stampede overnight at an overcrowded Jewish religious gathering in the country’s north attended by tens of thousands of people flouting the coronavirus-related restrictions.
The mass gathering was organised to celebrate the Lag B’Omer, an annual religious holiday marked with all-night bonfires, prayer and dancing, at Mount Meron.
The town is the site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century sage, and is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world. Israel recently eased mask-wearing requirements in open areas and other restrictions after the success of a massive vaccination drive that significantly brought down coronavirus-related cases. The resulting “normalcy”, with limitations, saw rejoicing crowds across Israel with youngsters, especially school children, coming out in large numbers in open spaces putting bonfires that accompanied the Lag BaOmer festivities. Tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox Jews participated in the tragic event at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, making it the largest event held in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic broke out last year. A preliminary police investigation revealed that some of the attendees slipped on the stairs, creating a “human avalanche” that crushed members of the crowd. A Magen David Adom (MDA) rescue service official confirmed that at least 38 people had been killed with the numbers likely to go even higher.
“Our paramedics have treated hundreds of people, including several in serious condition. All the wounded were evacuated to hospital”, he said.
Some 150 people were injured in the accident. Zaka, an ambulance service, said the death toll had risen to 44. MDA Director-General Eli Bin told the Ynet news site that the wounded were being evacuated to the Ziv hospital in Safed, the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, Rambam hospital in Haifa, Poriya hospital in Tiberias, and Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem.
Firefighters worked to free the trapped, supported by Israeli Air Force helicopters and rescue services.
Police were trying to clear the tens of thousands who attended the event from the area.
Organisers had estimated that some 100,000 people were at the site, with an additional 100,000 expected to arrive by Friday, local media reported.
A police official told the local media that dozens of participants in a concert had slipped, falling on those below them while walking along a slippery walkway and causing a crushing domino effect.
Jerusalem, Apr 30 (PTI):