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Page last updated at 04:25 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Russian bereaved head for Israel

Israeli soldiers and emergency staff wheel a wounded passenger into a hospital in central Israel, 16 December 2008
Several of the 33 people injured in the crash remain in serious condition

Russia is sending a plane to Israel carrying doctors and relatives of Russian victims of a bus crash there which claimed at least 24 lives.

More than 30 people were also injured when the bus plunged off a desert road into a ravine near Israel's southern resort of Eilat on Tuesday.

The 50-strong group was made up mainly of travel agents from St Petersburg on a trip to survey the Red Sea resort.

The road crosses hilly terrain and involves a series of hair-pin bends.

The bus had no seat belts and many passengers were flung from the vehicle which flipped over several times as it plummeted 13m (45ft) down a steep slope on to a dry river bed, Israeli officials say.

A Yak-42 aircraft carrying relatives, and four psychologists or doctors, set off from St Petersburg overnight.

Driver questioned

The group of travel agents was being transported to Eilat from Ovda airport, some 50km (30 miles) away in the Negev desert, when the accident happened.

The bus lies at the bottom of the ravine

The driver of another bus said the bus carrying the Russians had overtaken him in a no-passing zone and then crashed through a guard rail, reports say.

A taxi driver who saw the accident gave a similar account to Israeli public radio.

Israeli traffic police commissioner Meir Or said the driver had survived the crash but was injured.

Mr Or said the driver was being interrogated and police were trying to determine the speed at which the vehicle had been travelling.

Dozens of rescue workers, ambulances and several air force helicopters evacuated the injured, several of whom were reported to be in a serious condition.

The bodies of the deceased have been flown to Tel Aviv for identification.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed shock at the "horrific accident" and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent condolences to relatives of the victims.

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