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Investigators visit Eilat crash scene

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A special team was appointed to investigate a bus crash near Eilat that left 24 Russian tourists dead.

Traffic police investigators visited the scene Wednesday morning as relatives of the victims began arriving in Israel. The Transportation Ministry also is investigating.

The driver of another bus who passed by the ill-fated tour bus immediately before it plunged down a 45-foot embankment Tuesday afternoon, Rami Vazana, denied Wednesday that he and the injured driver, 39-year-old Edward Gelfond, had an argument shortly before the accident.

The crash was "the result of aggressive behavior on the part of drivers," Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Israeli news site Ynet on Tuesday. Police Superintendent Shimon Butbul, commander of the Eilat Police traffic department, told Ynet it is too early for Mofaz or anyone else to draw conclusions as to the cause of the accident until the investigation is complete.

Gelfond on Tuesday told Channel 2 television that he lost control of the bus when something fell on him as he attempted to pass another vehicle. He also said he was driving below the speed limit of 80 kilometers, or about 50 miles, per hour.

The tour bus was filled with a group of Russian tour guides who had just arrived on a flight from St. Petersburg for an organized tour. Several of the more than 30 injured in the crash remain in Israeli hospitals.

Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed sorrow on behalf of all Israelis when he spoke by telephone Tuesday night with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"The mistake of one person has resulted in the pain of an entire nation," Peres said. 
 

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