CAIRO — Thousands of Russian vacationers were heading home from Egypt on Monday aboard special planes sent by Moscow, which has suspended all flights to Egypt amid security concerns in the aftermath of the Oct. 31 plane crash of a Russian airliner that killed all 224 people onboard.
Other airliners from Britain and Western Europe also are arriving to bring their nationals home, after several countries and airlines last week suspended new flights to Egypt as suspicions focused on the possibility that a bomb caused the Metrojet crash.
U.S. and British officials have cited intelligence reports as indicating that the Oct. 31 flight from the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg was brought down by a bomb on board. Most of the 224 people onboard were Russian tourists.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond offered some of the strongest comments yet on the issue, telling reporters Monday that it "now looks more likely than not to have been an explosive device smuggled on to the plane" by operatives or loyalists of the Islamic State group.
Hammond, speaking from the United Nations in New York, said the U.K. was willing to resume flights to Sharm el-Sheikh but added, "That will depend on us working together with the Egyptian authorities and with the airlines to put in place security arrangements which are robust."
Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon told reporters Monday that there was a "high probability" that the plane was brought down by a bomb.
Ya'alon said he "would be surprised" if a planted explosive device did not cause the crash. But he noted that Israel is not involved in the investigation and said his opinion was based on "what we hear and understand."
Since the Russian suspension of Egypt flights was announced Friday, dozens of airliners have been bringing Russian tourists back home, carrying only cabin baggage, while Russian cargo planes are hauling back the rest of their luggage.
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said it would take about two weeks to bring all the stranded Russian tourists back home. Dvorkovich, who has been made the point-man for the repatriation in the wake of the Russian plane crash in Sinai, said earlier in the day 25,000 have already been brought back home since the weekend.