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Russians Leave Egypt Resort With Hand Luggage Only

  • RFE/RL

There are currently some 80,000 Russian holidaymakers in Egyptian Red Sea resorts.

There are currently some 80,000 Russian holidaymakers in Egyptian Red Sea resorts.

Russians leaving Egypt are only being allowed to carry hand luggage onboard, and their other luggage is to be delivered later.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry said on November 7 that it was sending planes to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada to bring back the checked baggage.

Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency said it was sending 44 empty planes on November 7 to the two resorts to bring home nearly 80,000 Russian tourists there.

The measures come following the crash of a Russian-operated plane in the Sinai Peninsula a week ago after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg.

All 224 people on board the Airbus A321-200, mostly Russians, were killed.

Western intelligence suggests the plane was downed by a bomb, while both Egypt and Russia say it's too early to draw conclusions.

On November 6, however, the Kremlin said Russia was suspending all passenger flights to Egypt as a precaution until the cause is determined and safety is ensured.

Moscow's decision to suspend all flights to Egypt was discussed during a meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Egyptian Ambassador to Russia, Muhammad al-Badri, the Foreign Ministry said on November 7.

The two men also discussed the investigation into the crash, the ministry said.

President Vladimir Putin also ordered the government to figure out how to repatriate Russian holidaymakers -- numbering some 80,000. Most of them are staying at Red Sea resorts.

Oleg Safonov, head of the Russian state tourism agency Rostourism, said future flights would be leaving without hold luggage.

"Planes will arrive empty and be boarded by those tourists who should return home on that date," he also said.

The Russian Travel Industry Union says nearly all Russian tourists who had planned to visit Egypt in the coming days agreed to fly to Turkey instead.

Other countries have restricted travel to Egypt, including, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

The suspension of flights to Egypt will severely affect the country's tourism industry, which accounted for more than 12 percent of the country's economy in 2013. One in five foreign tourists in Egypt is Russian.

U.S. and British officials have suggested a possible terrorist attack brought down the Russian jet on October 31.

The head of the investigation into the crash said on November 7 that a noise was heard in the last second of the cockpit voice recording from the plane.

Ayman el-Muqadem told a news conference in Cairo that an analysis of the noise was underway to identify its nature.

"All scenarios are being considered ... it could be lithium batteries in the luggage of one of the passengers, it could be an explosion in the fuel tank," said Muqadem, who is Egyptian and leading the investigation committee.

The committee includes experts from Russia, Germany, France – where the plane was made -- and Ireland, where the plane was registered.

French news media have reported that black boxes from the plane indicate it came to a sudden, violent end in a mid-air explosion.

France 2 television channel quoted "an investigator who had access to the black box" of the Russian aircraft as saying that "the sound of an explosion can be distinctly heard during the flight."

A source whom the AFP news agency described as close to the case said the flight data recorder showed that "everything was normal during the flight, absolutely normal, and suddenly there was nothing."

France's accident-investigation agency has experts now in Egypt probing the crash because the Kogalymavia/Metrojet plane was made in France.

Militants known as Sinai Province and linked to the Islamic State group (IS) say they downed the plane, but have not said how.

On November 7 in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry accused unnamed countries of failing to share intelligence relating to the crash.

Egyptian officials should have been told about "the available technical information instead of releasing it to the media in a generalized way," he said.

Shoukry also criticized some countries for ignoring calls to tackle terrorists "more seriously."

The spread of terrorism "did not get through to many of the parties which are now exposed and which are currently working for the interests of their citizens to face this danger," he said

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, TASS, Interfax, and the BBC