MERON | A giant stampede during a Jewish pilgrimage to northern Israel left “dozens of dead” Friday, rescuers said in a new toll.
Magen David Adom – Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross – had earlier mentioned at least 20 injured in critical condition, before reviewing this toll upwards to “dozens of dead” and about ten seriously injured.
The rescuers had initially mentioned the collapse of stands to explain these injuries, before then evoking a giant “stampede”.
Tens of thousands of people took part on the night of Thursday to Friday in an annual pilgrimage to northern Israel for the largest public event in the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pilgrimage, which takes place on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer, is held in Meron, around the alleged tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochaï, a talmudist of the 2nd century of the Christian era who is credited with writing the Zohar , central work of Jewish mysticism.
Lag Baomer is a joyous holiday marking the memory of the end of a devastating epidemic among the students of a Talmudic school at that time.
The authorities had allowed the presence of 10,000 people in the enclosure of the tomb but, according to the organizers, more than 650 buses were chartered in all the country, that is to say at least 30,000 people, while the local press reported 100 000 people on site.
But after midnight, emergency calls for rescuers multiplied, and six helicopters were deployed to evacuate the wounded to hospitals in Safed and Nahariya, two towns in the north of the country.
Contacted by AFP, the Israeli army confirmed having deployed helicopters to rescue the victims of the incident at Mount Méron.
The Israeli media quickly circulated the shocking image of a dozen inert bodies lined up in plastic bags, surrounded by rescuers on a tarmac track.
Monster traffic jams on the roads leading to the north of the country were reported by the police who had deployed 5,000 agents to ensure the safety of this event.
Magen David Adom earlier reported cases of people fainting from the heat and others lightly burned by ritually lit campfires each year.
In 2019, a year before the pandemic which forced the cancellation of the pilgrimage in 2020, the organizers estimated that 250,000 pilgrims had visited the site.
Since December, more than five million Israelis (53% of the population) have received both doses of the vaccine, or about 80% of the population over the age of 20 according to official data from the country, which has recorded some 838 000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 6,300 deaths.