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The driver of a tourist bus that plunged off a road into a ravine near Eilat last December, killing 24 passengers, was indicted in the Be'er Sheva District Court yesterday.

Edward Gelfond, 40, from Petah Tikva, was charged with manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm.

The accident killed 24 Russian travel agents on their way to Eilat, and injured another 26.

The indictment states, "Gelfond accelerated, reaching 98 kilometers an hour on a curve, 18 kilometers per hour more than the speed limit. This speed was unsuitable to a bus full of passengers and luggage, about to pass another bus on a curving road with a ravine to the left."

The bus veered toward the road's shoulder, and as Gelfond attempted to return to the road, the back left side of the bus hit the safety barrier. Gelfond lost control of the bus, which tilted left and went over the barrier into the gully below, flipping several times.

The indictment also states that the defendant "took an unreasonable risk knowing that passing another bus under the circumstances could have the fatal outcome that occurred."

The prosecution said Gelfond's attempt to pass the other bus caused the accident. Southern District prosecutor Vadim Sigal asked that Gelfond's driver's license and passports be confiscated until the case is resolved. Gelfond is also required to appear at every hearing.

The indictment contradicts the findings of a inquiry committee established by then-transportation minister Shaul Mofaz in several places: The indictment says Gelfond exceeded the speed limit by 18 kilometers per hour, while the probe says he was driving 2 kilometers per hour less than the speed limit.

The committee found that the accident had been caused by the "hooliganism of the drivers," who had been arguing, which was expressed in the attempt to pass each other. The indictment makes no mention of a quarrel.

In the indictment, the police noted the numerous road signs warning drivers to slow down. However, the Mofaz committee concluded that there is a "tendency to speed up on the descent, and there is no special speed limit at the site."