UK moves to repatriate Egypt tourists after 'bomb' warning

5th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Britain moved Thursday to repatriate thousands of tourists from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh after warnings a "terrorist bomb" may have brought down a Russian jet that took off from the resort, as several nervous airlines scrapped their flights.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi moved to allay concerns over security at the Red Sea resort's airport, after Britain and the United States said a bomb could have been the cause of last week's crash in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 224 people.

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has claimed responsibility for the disaster but Egypt and Russia have played down suggestions of a bombing, with Cairo saying there was "no evidence" to support the theory.

France joined Britain in advising its nationals against all non-essential travel to the resort, though it has only a few dozen tourists in the area compared to Britain's estimated 20,000.

German giant Lufthansa meanwhile joined a growing number of airlines deciding to suspend flights in and out of Sharm -- by its Edelweiss and Eurowing carriers -- as a precautionary measure.

Turkish Airlines also cancelled two flights despite insisting earlier Thursday that it would continue flying to the resort.

There is no global or European blanket ban, however, and a Egypt Air flight took off for Sharm from Rome on Thursday as scheduled.

Sisi, who was in London for long-planned talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, said he was "ready to cooperate" with Egypt's partners to protect foreign holidaymakers, and that he wanted to ensure the crash had no negative impact on Egypt's tourist trade.

Britain on Wednesday suspended flights in and out of the resort, where most tourists are British or Russian, and said it is hoping evacuation flights can resume on Friday following a security review.

"We are completely ready to cooperate with all our friends to make sure that our airport provides the safety and security needed," Sisi told a joint press conference with Cameron.

He revealed that London had said it was "happy" with security arrangements at Sharm el-Sheikh airport after asking Cairo to check them 10 months ago.

Cameron said: "We're working round the clock with the Egyptians to put in place the necessary security measures at the airport.

"There are a relatively simple and straightforward set of things that need to happen at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport to give us greater certainty of safety."

Cameron earlier spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin to explain the decision.

Putin said assessments of the crash should be based on the "ongoing official investigation", according to the Kremlin.

- First funeral -

Flight KGL9268, which was heading for Saint Petersburg, crashed soon after takeoff, killing everyone on board.

Citing intelligence, Cameron told reporters it was "more likely than not that it was a terrorist bomb" that had caused the crash, a view shared by Washington.

Egypt's civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said investigators "have as yet no evidence or data confirming the theory" of a bomb attack.

And the Kremlin dismissed the notion as "speculation".

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain was planning emergency measures to allow the repatriation of holidaymakers, with planes flying out empty to bring tourists home.

The measures "will allow us to screen everything going onto those planes, double-check those planes so we can be confident that they can fly back safely to the UK", Hammond said.

EasyJet said it was hoping to fly 10 planes from Sharm el-Sheikh back to Britain on Friday.

IS, in claiming responsibility for the crash, said Wednesday it would reveal how at a time of its choosing.

The Russian jet was flying at altitude of 30,000 feet (9,150 metres) when it lost contact with authorities, 23 minutes after take-off.

Experts say the fact that debris and bodies were strewn over a wide area indicates the aircraft disintegrated in mid-air, meaning the crash was likely caused by either a technical fault or an explosion on board.

If confirmed, it would be the first time IS, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, has bombed a passenger plane.

Russia on Thursday began burying the first victims of the crash, with several hundred people gathering in Veliky Novgorod, south of Saint Petersburg to mourn 60-year-old Nina Lushchenko.

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© 2015 AFP

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