Dozens killed in stampede at Israeli religious site

Friday, April 30

(Photo by DAVID COHEN/JINI PIX/AFP via Getty Images)

A massive stampede at a densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site killed at least 44 people in northern Israel on Friday.

The disaster occurred in Meron at the site of the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to mark the Lag BaOmer holiday.

The pilgrimage was the largest public gathering since the pandemic began, with reports that there were three times more people there than authorised. 

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 the country, bringing 30,000 pilgrims to Meron.

Initial reports indicated that the carnage began when a section of stadium seating collapsed but rescue workers later linked the casualties to a stampede.

Israel has fully vaccinated more than half of its 9.3 million population against the coronavirus, but restrictions on massive public gatherings remain in place to stem the spread of the virus.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, known in Israel as haredim, have throughout the pandemic shown resistance towards health and safety measures mandated by the government.

Newsday/France 24