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Russian Tour Bus Crashes In Israel, 30 Dead

NEAR OVDA, Israel (Reuters) -- An Israeli bus full of newly arrived Russian tourists veered off a desert road and plunged down a ravine, killing at least 30 people and seriously injuring about a dozen more.

The crash, near the Sinai Desert border to the north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat, was the worst road accident in Israel for years. Rescue services said 24 people, many of whom were Russians, were confirmed dead. The Russian ambassador said he had been told the toll was 30.

Soldiers, police, and rescue workers rushed to the scene and army helicopters helped evacuate dozens of injured survivors.

"I saw people flying out of the windows as the bus rolled down the slope," said one driver who witnessed the crash.

Bodies, baggage, and bits of wreckage were scattered over the steep slope down from the highway, and the bus lay on its side on the rocky desert floor.

An officer shouted orders through a bullhorn as stretcher teams laid out a long line of white plastic body bags.

Israel's Airport Authority said the victims had just arrived from St. Petersburg at Ovda airport, which serves Eilat.

A police source said they were Russian tourists. An official at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv said he had no confirmed information, but the embassy had sent a representative to the scene.

The Zaka rescue service reported 24 people were killed and about a dozen seriously injured.

National police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said helicopters were flying injured passengers to a hospital in Beersheba and others were taken by ambulance to a hospital in Eilat.

Eilat, at Israel's southern tip, borders on Jordan and Egypt and is a popular tourist destination. It is a particularly popular spot for Russians who come for winter sunshine.

Russian authorities said they were sending two planes to Israel with relatives and specialist medical personnel.

"Tonight, we plan to dispatch two Emergencies Ministry aircraft to Israel. One plane will fly from Moscow to St. Petersburg and then Eilat bringing relatives of those who suffered in the crash," a spokeswoman for the Emergencies Ministry said. "A cargo plane will head for Eilat as well. It will carry medical staff, psychologists, rescue workers and necessary medical equipment."

The Russian ambassador to Israel, Pyotr Stegny, told Moscow's state-controlled Vesti-24 channel that the latest figures he had from Israeli authorities stated that 30 people were killed and 21 were injured in the crash.

Israel's Zaka rescue service earlier reported 24 dead. There was no immediate Israeli confirmation of the higher death toll.