New Delhi (NVI): At least 44 people were killed in a massive stampede at a densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site in northern Israel today.
The disaster occurred 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.
This year’s pilgrimage was the largest public gathering as it was closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions.
According to reports, rescue workers had initially said that chaos erupted when a section of stadium seating collapsed but later revised that account to say the casualties had been caused by a stampede.
Israeli media published an image of a row of bodies covered in plastic bags on the ground.
Emergency services deployed six helicopters to evacuate the injured.
The army was quoted saying that its medical teams and “a number of Israeli Air Force helicopters with medical teams… are assisting in the mass casualty incident in Mount Meron.”
“The forces are assisting in the evacuation of injured and killed civilians and providing medical treatment at the scene,” it added.
Israel has fully vaccinated more than half of its 9.3 million population against coronavirus, but restrictions on massive public gatherings remain in place to stem the spread of the virus.
As per reports, authorities had allowed 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.
The area has since been closed, with rescue workers and security forces attempting to clear the area.