04/30/2021, 10.52
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Tragedy in Galilee at first post-Covid religious gathering: 44 dead and 150 wounded

Tens of thousands of people had gathered on Mount Meron for the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer. This is the first mass event authorized by the authorities since the start of the pandemic. According to some sources there was a number three times higher than the authorized one. A rescuer: “One of the worst tragedies I've ever experienced”. The condolences of the Church of the Holy Land.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The first mass religious gathering in Israel since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has become a tragedy. For over a year, the emergency limited - if not completely cancelling - gatherings and pilgrimages to the holy land for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The provisional toll from the accident that took place shortly after midnight on Mount Meron, in Galilee, is of at least 44 victims and 150 injured.

Some people reportedly fell from the bleachers, dragging other participants in the Jewish festival of Lag BaOmer with them, to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

The accident, perhaps caused by a structural failure - but this has yet to be verified - triggered a mass stampede in which dozens of people were crushed or overwhelmed.

According to medical and institutional sources it is one of the most serious civilian disasters in the history of the country, for the number of victims and people involved. The event was attended by tens of thousands of people, mostly Orthodox Jews, who benefited from the easing of the restrictions imposed so far to contain the new coronavirus, thanks to a massive vaccination campaign that sees Israel as the world leader.

Before the pandemic, every year on the occasion of the holiday commemorating the Jewish rebellion of 132 AD. against the Roman legions, up to 100 thousand Orthodox Jews went to the mountain to pray at the tomb of the rabbi and mystic. He would be the author of the text "Zohar" (splendour) and the commemoration represents the most important and participated mass event of the annual calendar, with presences of up to half a million.

This year the authorities had given the green light to the event, albeit with numerous restrictions which, however, proved insufficient in the face of massive participation. Among the traditions linked to the festival are the lighting of bonfires, community prayers and dances that may have contributed to the collapse of the structure. A similar incident had already occurred in 1911, when the collapse of a building adjacent to the rabbi's tomb caused dozens of victims.

The army and emergency departments have deployed dozens of helicopters to evacuate the wounded. "This is one of the worst tragedies I have ever experienced," said Lazar Hyman of the United Hatzalah Volunteer Rescue Service, who was at the scene of the accident that occurred around midnight.

According to some unconfirmed sources, three times more people were present at the event than those authorized. Interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of a "serious disaster" and assured he is “praying for the wounded" and support for family members. Opposition leader Yair Lapid called it a "terrible disaster" and a "sad" night for the nation.

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land sent a letter of condolence to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin this morning. The members of the assembly also expressed their condolences to the families of the victims and their prayers for the speedy recovery of the dozens of people injured in the accident.

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