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Wedding Tragedy Search Ends

Rescue crews called off the search Saturday for any more survivors of a wedding hall collapse that killed 24 people, convinced that all guests and workers had been accounted for.

Maj. Gen. Gabi Ofir, the head of the rescue team, said the risk of continuing the searches in the unstable ruins of the three-story building was too great to continue combing the rubble.

"As of now, on the basis of a thorough investigation by the Israel police, there are no more people in the building," Ofir said.

Earlier, there were suggestions that some foreign workers whose families may not have known to inquire about their relatives were still buried. But Ofir said all workers, as well as the 600 guests, had been accounted for.

With the end of the rescue effort, work turned toward analysis of the rubble.

Building engineers collected cement samples from the debris and police questioned contractors amid growing suspicion that shoddy construction caused Israel's deadliest civilian disaster.

The third-story dance floor caved in late Thursday, sucking hundreds of revelers into an abyss of smoke and orange sparks. Twenty-four bodies were pulled out of the ruins on Friday. Of the more than 300 injured — or half the guests — some 150 remained hospitalized Saturday. More than a dozen were in serious condition.

Watch graphic amateur video of the collapse. Viewer discretion advised.
One dead couple was found in each other's arms, five people were discovered buried still sitting around a banquet table, reports CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who called the accident a "national disaster," said he would convene a special Cabinet meeting to consider launching an official commission of inquiry.

"This was a shocking incident, one of the most difficult that occurred in Israel," Sharon said after inspecting the scene.

Nine people, including contractors and engineers, who were arrested in the case appeared in court Saturday night, some in handcuffs and some with handkerchiefs covering their faces. The judge ordered two held until May 29 and the rest until May 31 as the probe continued into whether shoddy construction caused the cave-in Thursday night.

One man held was the inventor of "Pal-Kal," a heaper, lightweight construction method employed in the Versailles hall and many public buildings built in Israel in the 1980s, police said Saturday. The method, using metal plates and thinner layers of cement, was barred in 1996.

Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy said that judging by the first findings of the investigation into the construction work, "it looks really bad."

One of the owners of the building was taken to the site Saturday and questioned by officers there.

Construction experts said 32 million square feet of floors and ceilings have been built by the "Pal-Kal" method since the 1980s, including the building housing the Bank of Israel, the central library of Tel Aviv University and a shopping mall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot.

On Saturday, engineers from the Technion, Israel's most prestigious technical university, toured the collapsed building, accompanied by police investigators, and removed cement samples for analysis.

Exhausted rescue workers had picked through the rubble with sniffer dogs, tiny cameras and power tools for a second full day before the search was called off.

At one point, work was stopped for half an hour after a large chunk of the ceiling dropped, dangling from a few thin rods.

For a small group of Orthodox Jews among the rescuers, Saturday began with dawn prayers led by a man in army fatigues and a white prayer shawl. The worshippers, with shawls covering their Day-Glo searchers' vests, huddled near a makeshift tarp morgue, bowing their heads and reciting prayers.

Observant Jews rescue workers had received rare permission from rabbis to work on the Sabbath, the biblically mandated day of rest. In Jewish tradition, the value of saving lives overrides any other religious commandment.

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