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Israel in mourning after astronaut son's death

Israel was in mourning today following the death of the pilot son of the Jewish state's first and only astronaut, who himself died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster.

world Updated: Sep 14, 2009 15:23 IST

Israel was in mourning today following the death of the pilot son of the Jewish state's first and only astronaut, who himself died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster.

Assaf Ramon, 21, died yesterday when the F-16 fighter jet he was flying crashed in the southern hills of the occupied West Bank.

He was the eldest son of Ilan Ramon, an Israeli fighter pilot who became the Jewish state's first and only astronaut and is regarded as a national hero, and the news of his death shocked Israel.

The crash dominated news coverage for a second day in a row today and top dignitaries were expected to attend Assaf Ramon's funeral later in the day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even postponed a key meeting with the visiting US Middle East envoy George Mitchell to attend a ceremony in which Assaf Ramon will be laid to rest near his father at the cemetery in Nahalal, a town near Tel Aviv.

"Few are the moments in which private pain so strongly shatters the national heart," Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying in his condolence message to the Ramon family.

"Today, the entire nation is wrapped in unfathomable grief over the death of Assaf Ramon, who fell from the skies like his father Ilan," he said.