Security officials and rescuers carry a body after the tragedy at Mount Meron in Israel (Image credit: USA Today)

44 die in stampede at religious congregation in Israel

At least 44 devotees were killed and over 150 injured after a stampede broke out at a religious bonfire festival in Israel attended by over one lakh pilgrims on the wee hours of Friday (April 30). It is feared that the toll may further rise.

This was the largest congregation in the country since the corona virus broke out last year. Israel had eased the lockdown rules ever since the country achieved 50 per cent vaccination which led to a fall in the number of COVID-19 cases. But the gathering was allowed under certain COVID-19 protocols, which appear to be violated in this case.

According to different news sources the stampede took place during the annual celebrations of Lag B’Omer at Mount Meron. 

The country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called it a “heavy disaster” and said he was praying for the victims following the “great tragedy”.

Reports said it was not immediately clear what caused this greatest civilian tragedy in the country’s history, but some eyewitnesses said a group of pilgrims slipped on steps, which in turn caused more people to fall. 

The crowds, mostly ultra-orthodox Jews, were gathering to honour Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second century sage and mystic who is buried at the Galilee tomb.

It is estimated that between one and two lakh people gathered and their number was going to swell. Large crowds traditionally light bonfires, pray and dance as part of the celebrations.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s office attribute the tragedy to overcrowding and collapse of a structure.

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