Under 2,500 Russian tourists left in Egypt after evacuation of 90,000 - Russian transport minister

Wednesday 18-11-2015 01:20 PM
Under 2,500 Russian tourists left in Egypt after evacuation of 90,000 - Russian transport minister

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with top security officials to discuss the results of the investigation into the cause of the downing of a Russian plane in Egypt, on Nov. 16, 2015. Courtesy of the Kremlin


By Hend Kortam

CAIRO, Nov. 18 (Aswat Masriya) - Around 90,000 Russian tourists left Egypt to Russia in the aftermath of the passenger plane crash in Sinai last month, with the last flight scheduled to repatriate Russians planned for Nov. 30, Russian transport minister said Wednesday.

Transportation Minister Maxim Sokolov said there are now under 2,500 Russian tourists in Egypt, according to Interfax news agancy. 

Russia has already suspended all flights to Egypt before banning EgyptAir flights from entering Moscow. Sokolov said Russia is not considering broadening the flights suspension to include countries other than Egypt.

The minister's statements come one day after the Kremlin announced that the ill-fated A321 Metrojet flight that crashed in the Sinai desert on Oct. 31 as it headed to St. Petersburg, was downed by an act of terrorism with a homemade bomb planted on the jet.

Egypt responded by saying that "so far, there is no criminal evidence" to support that claim. 

The Russian announcement came on the heels of a meeting of Russia's top defence and security officials where they discussed the "final results" of an investigation into the cause of the crash. The Russian investigation was being carried out in parallel, but clearly not in coordiantion with an Egypt-led international investigation, which includes Russian representatives. 

"According to our specialists’ assessment, a homemade explosive device with an equivalent of 1 kilogram of TNT on board the aircraft exploded, which led to the plane 'breaking up' in midair, which would explain the scattering of the plane’s fuselage across a wide area," Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service told Interfax Tuesday.

Russia has not set a date for publishing a report on its investigation.

According to Russian state-affiliated Sputnik news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said "you have to understand that these are investigative bodies. We have our investigation, and Egypt has theirs, so we in the Kremlin cannot say anything on when the investigation will be published." 

Egypt's Cabinet said Tuesday night that Egyptian authorities will "rely on the outcomes of these [the Russian] investigations as soon as they are provided."  

The Russian jet had disappeared from the radar 23 minutes after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport and analysts agreed early on in the investigation that it broke up midair as its debris was spread over at least 13 square kilometers and killing all 224 passengers and crew.

The Sinai-based affiliate of the Islamic State Fighters in Iraq and Syria, Sinai Province has  twice claimed responsibility for the act of sabotage, placing Egyptian airport security under heavy scrutiny.

Egypt fears that the ramifications of this incident will be bad news for its struggling tourism sector, a vital source of much-needed hard currency. The U.K. has halted all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh, one of Egypt's biggest tourist hubs, while Russia has halted all flights to Egypt indefinitely and banned the national carrier EgyptAir from flying to Moscow.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail tasked the tourism minister on Tuesday with contracting a public relations company specialising in international communication to "change the mental image of the tourism sector in Egypt and to limit the sector's losses," MENA reported.

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