The crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was “more likely than not” caused by a bomb, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday.
“It looks increasingly likely that that was the case,” Cameron said of the possibility of a bomb on board the plane, on which 224 people died.
Cameron was speaking to British media after chairing a meeting of his government’s emergency committee to discuss security in Egypt following the crash.
Asked about Egypt’s contention that it was “premature” and “unwarranted” for Britain to suspend flights to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort and raise the possibility of a bomb having caused the crash, Cameron said he realized that “tourism is vitally important” to Egypt.
“I want to restore our flights, and our links, as soon as possible,” he said.
But he added that 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.”
He said he would discuss the security issues with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi in London later Thursday.
In Cairo, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal dismissed Britain’s claims that an explosive device might have caused the Russian plane to crash.
“The commission investigating the accident has not seen so far any indications or data proving this supposition,” Kamal said in a statement.
“Egypt is keen on conducting precise investigations into the accident to ensure that all realities will be known to the world,” he said.
British Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who told parliament of a “significant possibility” that a bomb had destroyed the plane, responded to Egyptian criticism by saying that his government’s decision had “not been taken lightly.”
British experts were working with their Egyptian counterparts in Sharm el-Sheikh to improve security and resume flights, he said.
“We will need to be confident that security standards meet our expectations … before we allow services to resume,” McLoughlin said.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC that flights could resume on Friday.
“The airlines are telling us that they expect by tomorrow they’ll be in a position to start flying those British visitors back to the UK,” Hammond told the broadcaster.
“We’re spending today with the airlines, with the Egyptian authorities, putting in place short-term emergency measures that will allow us to screen everything going onto those planes, double-check those planes, so that we can be confident that they can fly back safely to the UK,” he said.
An estimated 20,000 British citizens remain in Sharm el-Sheikh, including at least 9,000 holidaymakers, the broadcaster said.
British Airways said it had postponed two flights scheduled to leave Sharm el-Sheikh on Thursday 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.