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Britain, Russia Fly Citizens Home from Egypt After Deadly Crash

A British tourist looks at a flight information panel at the airport of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Nov. 7, 2015.

European holidaymakers are leaving the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh by the thousands following an airline disaster that killed hundreds of Russian tourists at the end of October.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said by the end of Sunday, 5,000 British citizens will have left the Red Sea destination. However the country's embassy in Cairo was careful about how it labeled the departures.

"Britain is not evacuating its tourists early from their holidays," the diplomatic mission said in a statement Saturday. "The steps that we have taken yesterday and today with the Egyptian authorities and UK airlines will now allow us to get British people home safely at the end of their holidays."

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government last week to facilitate the repatriation of Russian travelers from Egypt. Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said Saturday that up to 80,000 Russians were visiting the country, twice as many as previously estimated. On Sunday, a Russian official said about 11,000 have now returned home.

Russian tourists shop in the Old Market in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, south Sinai, Egypt, Nov. 8, 2015.
Russian tourists shop in the Old Market in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, south Sinai, Egypt, Nov. 8, 2015.

All 224 people aboard a Russian Metrojet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg were killed on October 31. The tragedy prompted some European air carriers to curb or cut flights to the longtime tourism magnet at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula.

Militants claiming affiliation with Islamic State claimed the attack, however the head of Egypt's investigation team says no conclusions have been reached about what brought the airliner down. U.S. and British officials have said it's possible that a bomb may have brought down the plane.

An unexplained noise during the final second of audio recordings from the cockpit has drawn intense attention, but Egypt's chief investigator, Ayman al-Muqaddam, said his team has not determined whether that signaled an explosion.

British media reported Saturday that a plane carrying tourists to Sharm El-Sheikh in August came within 300 meters of a rocket on August 23. However, officials in London and Cairo dismissed the incident.

Egypt's Foreign Affairs spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Saturday that both governments were "fully aware that plane was in no danger" during military training near the Sharm el-Sheikh airpot.

"Airliners [were] previously informed of military exercise [and] instructed of procedures," he said.