SHARM EL-SHEIKH (Egypt) • Russia and Britain yesterday ramped up efforts to bring home thousands of tourists stranded in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort following the crash of a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula.
In St Petersburg yesterday, the victims of the crash were remembered, with the bell of the iconic St Isaac's Cathedral tolling 224 times in memory of each person killed.
Britain and the United States, as well as international investigators, suspect a bomb exploded on board the Russian Airbus jet after it took off from the Red Sea resort on Oct 31 en route to St Petersburg, killing everyone on board.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group's branch in the Sinai has claimed responsibility, but Egyptian officials insist there is no evidence yet of an attack on the plane. Nonetheless, security fears have prompted Russia to suspend all flights to Egypt and Britain to halt air travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, while several other countries have warned their nationals not to fly to the resort.
Tens of thousands of people have been left stranded for days by the clampdown, which Egypt fears could deal a heavy blow to its vital tourism industry, already battered by years of unrest.
Russia said it would send 44 planes to bring its nationals home, with some 80,000 Russians estimated to be in Egypt, mainly in Sharm el-Sheikh and another Red Sea resort, Hurghada.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told reporters yesterday that about 11,000 Russians had been repatriated over the previous 24 hours. "Today is the busiest day in this sense," he said, adding that more people were set to return home later yesterday.
The Kremlin has insisted the decision to suspend flights does not mean Moscow believes the crash was caused by a deliberate attack. But Mr Dvorkovich said Russia was sending experts to inspect Egypt's airports to determine whether their security needed to be beefed up.
Britain has also started flying out some of its estimated 20,000 nationals who were in Sharm el-Sheikh at the time of the crash. Nine flights carrying almost 2,000 people flew back to Britain on Saturday, after about 1,500 had returned the previous day. Airport officials said eight flights were due to leave Sharm el-Sheikh for Britain yesterday.