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‘Dozens of dead’ in Israel pilgrimage stampede: rescue services | Religion News

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Accident occurred as tens of thousands of mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews were participating in an annual pilgrimage for a religious scholar.

Dozens of people have been killed in a stampede at a Jewish pilgrimage site in the north of Israel, rescue services said.

Magen David Adom, the Israeli emergency service, posted the updated toll on social media on Friday, adding “MDA is fighting for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated.”

On social media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “heavy disaster” and added: “We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties.”

The stampede occurred as tens of thousands of mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews were participating in an annual pilgrimage for the feast of Lag BaOmer, in Meron, around the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage.

Emergency services deployed six helicopters to evacuate the injured.

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

The ecstatic crowds congregated despite warnings by health officials to avoid presenting COVID-19 risks [Menahem Kahana/AFP]

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.

Around 5,000 police had been deployed to secure the event, the country’s largest public gathering during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ecstatic crowds congregated despite warnings by health officials to avoid presenting COVID-19 risks.

Witnesses said they realised people had been asphyxiated or trampled when an organiser appealed over a loudhailer for the throng to disperse.

“We thought maybe there was a (bomb) alert over a suspicious package. No one imagined that this could happen here. Rejoicing became mourning, a great light became a deep darkness,” a pilgrim who gave his name as Yitzhak told Channel 12 TV.

“Rabbi Shimon used to say that he could absolve the world … If he didn’t manage to cancel this edict on the very day of his exaltation, then we need to do real soul-searching.”



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