British tourists could start returning home from Egypt resort
UK officials await security assessment of Sharm el-Sheikh airport after plane crash
The first British tourists could be repatriated from Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday if UK officials are satisfied with a security assessment of the airport at the Egyptian resort.
The Foreign Office said it hoped a number of flights would be able to leave Sharm el-Sheikh, carrying some of the thousands of British tourists stranded there, but warned that some security issues still had to be resolved.
Britain suspended all flights to and from the resort on Wednesday and prime minister David Cameron said that it was “more likely than not” that a bomb caused a Russian passenger jet to crash on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board.
Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said after a meeting with Mr Cameron in 10 Downing Street that his government had taken steps months ago to address British security concerns about airport security.
“Ten months ago we were asked by our British friends to send a team to Sharm el-Sheikh airport to make sure all the security procedures are enough and provide the adequate safety and security for passengers,” he said.
“We understood their concern because they are really interested in the safety and security of their nationals.
“We received the teams, we cooperated with them and they checked the security operations – they were happy with that,” he added.
Mr Cameron adopted an emollient tone. He praised Egypt’s efforts to improve security and acknowledging the impact of Britain’s decision to suspend flights could have on the country’s tourist industry.
“We are working intensively together in the spirit of close cooperation, and I am immensely grateful for all the efforts the Egyptian authorities have made so far,” he said.
Restore the route
“And, more than that, I am sure that we will be able, over time, to take the necessary action to restore the holiday-making route from Britain to Sharm el-Sheikh and vice-versa.”
Russia has also been critical of the decision to suspend flights, arguing it was too early to say what caused the aircraft to crash before an official investigation had finished its work.
Mr Cameron called Russian president Vladimir Putin on Thursday.
“He explained that, as more information had come to light, our concerns that the plane may have been brought down by an explosive device had increased,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
“We had therefore taken the difficult decision to suspend flights into and out of Sharm el-Sheikh as a precautionary measure,” she added, “while we sought urgent reinforcement of security measures at the airport. The safety of British citizens was our primary concern.”
Cameron condemnedMr SisiLabourJeremy Corbyn
On Thursday, Crispin Blunt, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, added his voice to the criticism.
“Some would claim that, in 2013, the then-general Sisi and the military reclaimed stability and security for Egypt in the way that they removed president Morsi and his administration from office,” Mr Blunt said.
“But no one should be in any doubt at what the price has been.
“Possibly thousands of people were killed when the squares were cleared; 40,000 are in prison.
“We’ve seen death penalties handed out in batches of several hundreds, and many of us will have had first-hand testimony of people being tortured in the Egyptian justice system.”