Wednesday, 12 May, 2021

Dozens killed in stampede at Israel pilgrimage site

Thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Israel's biggest Covid-era gathering Dozens killed and many more critically injured in Israeli bonfire festival disaster
Deanna Wagner | 30 April, 2021, 07:54

The injuries were the result of overcrowding and not caused by the collapse of any structure at the site, the spokesman, Zaki Heller said, rebutting initial reports that staging had collapsed.

Dozens of people have been killed in a crush at a religious bonfire festival in Israel, medics said, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a "heavy disaster".

A stampede broke out early Friday at a Jewish religious festival attended by tens of thousands of people in northern Israel, killing almost 40 people and leaving some 150 hospitalized, medical officials said.

Lag BaOmer is an annual celebration on the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who was buried in a tomb at Mount Meron in northern Israel.

Magen Daviv Adom, Israel's national emergency medical services, said there were "dozens" killed, but did not offer specific numbers.

Emergency services deployed six helicopters to evacuate the injured.

Phone service at the scene crashed as thousands attempted to contact family members and emergency services.

Israeli media have published an image of a row of bodies covered in plastic bags on the ground.

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White House senior Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said von der Leyen's comments are affirmation of the United States vaccination program.

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.

United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollack told The Jerusalem Post that the incident occurred when large crowds of people streamed into a closed-in complex, leading to dozens of people being crushed against fences.

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.

Authorities had authorized 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.

The Meron pilgrimage is primarily attended by ultra-Orthodox Jews, a community that has at times resisted mandatory health and safety measures during the pandemic.

About 5,000 police were deployed to secure the event, with the police urging pilgrims to avoid incidents during the feast when bonfires are lit.

According to the report, the local police were attempting to clear the people from the scene so that ambulances could enter.

The IDF said that it had sent soldiers from the rescue brigade and Israel Air Force helicopters to help at the scene.