Egypt calls on Britain to change 'unjustified' decision to cancel all flights to Sharm el-Sheikh – as France and Holland follow suit
- Cairo dismisses claim bomb may have downed Russian jet as speculation
- Egypt minister says decision to axe flights 'carries a lot of question marks'
- Ireland, France and the Netherlands have also banned flights to the resort
- Paris made decision 'to ensure safety of French people', Russian news agency reported
- Germany's Lufthansa group has also cancelled routes to Sinai peninsula
Egypt today called on Britain to reverse its 'unjustified' decision to cancel all flights to the Sinai peninsula over fears the doomed Russian jet was destroyed in a terror attack.
Cairo and Moscow both accused David Cameron of speculating after the British Prime Minister said it was 'more likely than not' the Airbus was downed by bomb.
The topic is sensitive for Russia because its warplanes have launched raids against ISIS in Syria and for Egypt, which depends heavily on revenues from tourism.
Egyptian Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazou demanded an immediate rethink, saying the decision to ground flights was 'unjustified and carries a lot of question marks.'
Ireland, France and the Netherlands have also banned flights to the resort.
Long wait: British tourists stranded in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheik are pictured at the airport as they wait for news of how they are to return to the UK. The Government has pledged to get Britons out of Egypt as quickly as possible but admit it could take ten days to clear any backlog
Confusion: Passengers have described being taken off flights or away from queues at the gate last night
Russian news agency RIA Novosti said the Elysee Palace had decided to end flights 'to ensure the safety of people from France.'
Meanwhile, Germany's Lufthansa Group said it would cancel flights of its subsidiary airlines - Edelweiss and Eurowings.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also told Mr Cameron by telephone to wait for the results of an official investigation before jumping to conclusions.
The Kremlin said Putin 'underlined that while assessing the reason for what happened, it's necessary to use data that will become available in the course of the ongoing official probe.'
A spokesman for No 10 said: 'The Prime Minister reiterated his condolences over the loss of Russian life in the Sinai plane crash.
'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.
'We had therefore taken the difficult decision to suspend flights into and out of Sharm el-Sheikh as a precautionary measure, while we sought urgent reinforcement of security measures at the airport.
'The safety of British citizens was our primary concern. The Prime Minister and President agreed we face a common threat from terrorism.
'The President expressed his thanks for the call and his understanding for our concern for the safety of British citizens.
'They agreed to keep in close touch as the investigation progressed.'
Possible proof: A picture of one of the crashed Airbus A321's doors show it bearing 'pockmarks' on the inside, which could be evidence of shrapnel from a bomb that has gone off inside the plane
'Bomb evidence': Images show holes in the wreckage of the Airbus A321 that crashed on the Sinai peninsula Saturday, killing all 224 onboard, which appears to have been caused by something from inside the plane
A senior Russian lawmaker said Britain's decision to stop flights from Sharm was motivated by London's opposition to Russia's actions in Syria, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
'There is geopolitical opposition to the actions of Russia in Syria,' said Konstantin Kosachev, a senior member of Russia's upper house of parliament, when asked about Britain's decision.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Russian planes were still flying to and from Sharm alSheikh.
'Theories about what happened and the causes of the incident can only be pronounced by the investigation,' Peskov said.
'So far, we have heard nothing (like this) from the investigation. Any kind of similar assumptions like this are based on information that has not been checked or are speculation.'
In the ancient city of Luxor, Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty rejected the U.S. and British bomb allegations outright.
'(The crash) is not a terror act. It was an accident,' he declared as authorities opened three tombs to the public for the first time in an effort to encourage tourism.
'(It's) very sad what happened, but we have to wait for the result of the investigation.'
Terror attack: Downing Street said the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt this week after taking off from the resort of Sharm al-Sheikh (pictured) may have been brought down by an explosive device
Terror zone: An area of Egypt is now considered too dangerous to fly over as well as the threat of poor security at Sharm El Sheikh airport
Britain said on Thursday there was a significant possibility that Islamic State's Egyptian affiliate was behind a suspected bomb attack on a Russian airliner that killed 224 people in the Sinai Peninsula.
Asked if he thought Islamic State was responsible, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: '(ISIS in Sinai) have claimed responsibility for bringing down the Russian aircraft, they did that straight away after the crash.
'We've looked at the whole information picture, including that claim, but of course lots of other bits of information as well, and concluded that there is a significant possibility.'
British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was more likely than not that a bomb was to blame.
'We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but it looks increasingly likely that that was the case,' Cameron said.
U.S. and European security sources say evidence now suggests that a bomb planted by ISIS's Egypt affiliate - Sinai Province - was the likely cause of the crash.
The sources stressed they had reached no final conclusions about the crash.
British Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said Egypt will have to put in place tighter long-term security measures before British flights will resume flying.
He told the House of Commons on Thursday that British security teams sent to Sharm el-Sheikh 'will be working intensively with the Egyptian authorities to allow normal scheduled operations to recommence.'
Strain: British Prime Minister David Cameron holds talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Meeting: David Cameron shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi outside No 10 Downing Street amid tensions
McLoughlin said short-term measures, including different luggage-handing arrangements, would allow the estimated 20,000 British citizens in the Sharm el-Sheikh area, many of them tourists, to fly home.
Metrojet suspended all flights of Airbus A321 jets in its fleet after the crash, the Russian Federal Transport Agency said Thursday.
The company has ruled out a pilot error or a technical fault as a possible cause of the crash, drawing criticism from Russian officials for speaking with such certainty too soon.
Intercepted communications have played a role in the tentative conclusion that the Islamic State group's Sinai affiliate planted an explosive device on the plane, said a U.S. official briefed on the matter.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss intelligence matters publicly.
The official and others said there had been no formal judgment rendered by the CIA or other U.S. intelligence agencies, and that forensic evidence from the blast site, including the airplane's black box, was still being analyzed.
The official added that intelligence analysts don't believe the operation was ordered by Islamic State leaders in Raqqa, Syria, but possibly planned and executed by the Islamic State's affiliate in the Sinai.
Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, said a bomb could be placed on a plane in an endless number of ways, including the possibility that someone with airside access or people on catering teams or maintenance crews were involved.
'The options are almost too many to consider,' he said in a telephone interview from Gambia.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, British tourists said they really enjoyed the resort. Paul Modley, a 49-year-old Londoner, has travelled there seven times in the last nine years.
'We understand why the government have done it, but I am really worried for the Egyptian people because - particularly in the Red Sea resorts - they are so dependent on tourism,' said Modley.
On the ground in the Sinai, rescue teams have retrieved 140 bodies from the scene and more than 100 body parts.
Russian rescue workers, combing a 40sq km area, should finish their search for remains and wreckage by Thursday evening, a top official said.