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Israel Pilgrimage Stampede Kills 44

Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag BaOmer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, at Mount Meron, Israel, April 30, 2021. JINI PHOTO AGENCY LTD/REUTERS
Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag BaOmer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, at Mount Meron, Israel, April 30, 2021. JINI PHOTO AGENCY LTD/REUTERS

TEL AVIV – A massive stampede at a densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site killed at least 44 people in northern Israel on Friday, blackening the country’s largest Covid-era gathering.

The nighttime disaster struck as tens of thousands of pilgrims were gathered in Meron at the site of the reputed tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Talmudic sage, where mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews mark the Lag BaOmer holiday.

Closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions, this year’s pilgrimage at which bonfires are lit was expected to be a celebratory event in a nation that has largely re-opened thanks to a successful vaccination effort.

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It had been “a tragic night,” Shimon Lavi, northern Israel’s police commander, told AFP, adding his officers did all they could to save lives, helping to ferry the injured to hospital.

A young witness pointed a finger of blame at police.

“There is an iron ramp going down from the site of a bonfire… It was very crowded… people had to walk down on this ramp in order to exit,” said Shmuel, an 18-year-old at the scene.-Source

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