Britain allows flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to resume


Airlines will begin flying stranded British tourists home Friday after the government in London permitted flights from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort to resume.

More than 20 flights are expected to take off for London from the Red Sea beach resort.

Earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron maintained that the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt was “more likely than not” caused by a bomb, despite Russian and Egyptian leaders’ calls for all sides to await results of an official investigation.

Following talks Thursday in London with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Cameron defended his decision to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and make public his belief, based on intelligence reports, that a bomb was the likely cause of last week’s crash, which killed 224 people.

“I think we have done the right thing,” Cameron said at a joint press conference with al-Sissi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Cameron by telephone that crash assessments “should be based on the data that would become available in the course of the official investigation,” the Kremlin said.

Egyptian ministers said earlier that Britain’s flight suspension was “premature” and “unwarranted,” but al-Sissi declined to criticize his hosts. He told reporters that Egypt had “responded immediately” to Britain’s security concerns, calling Sharm al-Sheikh’s airport “completely secured.”

Cameron said the two countries had a “good, mutual understanding” on action needed to limit the effects of the security concerns on Egypt’s tourism industry.

But the possibility of a bomb behind last weekend’s crash had “very important implications” for security and he had to “put the safety of British people first,” Cameron said.

Friday’s flights would see a ban on airlines carrying luggage in the cargo holds of planes. Bags and other items that do not meet normal regulations for cabin luggage would be flown home by the British government and returned via courier.

Airline easyJet said it hoped to get luggage delivered within a week.

US President Barack Obama later said he believes there is a “possibility” a bomb brought down the airliner in Egypt.

“I think there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board, and we’re taking that very seriously,” Obama said in a radio interview.

The White House earlier said the United States had not made its own determination about the cause of the crash, but couldn’t rule out terrorist involvement.

Citing anonymous US officials familiar with intelligence assessments, several US media organizations have reported that the crash was likely caused by a bomb planted by Islamic State or an affiliate of the terrorist group.

US officials were looking at possible additional security on some US-bound flights, but had not yet made any decisions, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, noting that Britain had taken more urgent security steps because there were more British interests in the region.

In Cairo, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal dismissed claims of an explosive on board, saying in a statement that investigators have not seen “any indications or data proving this supposition.”

An estimated 20,000 British citizens remain in Sharm el-Sheikh, including at least 9,000 holidaymakers, broadcaster BBC reported.

British Airways said it had postponed two Thursday flights scheduled to leave Sharm el-Sheikh until Friday and would provide hotels for stranded passengers.

Thomas Cook, one of Britain’s largest tour operators, said it had suspended all tours to the resort until November 12 and planned to arrange for some 1,700 customers to leave “in due course.”

Pending further government advice, “booking conditions are as normal for travel after that date,” Thomas Cook said.

EasyJet and Monarch Airlines said they had suspended regular flights to the resort until November 12.

The two airlines said they planned to operate several scheduled flights Friday from Sharm el-Sheikh plus extra “rescue flights” for stranded passengers.