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Thousands of Russians leave Egypt after security concerns

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Cairo: Thousands of Russians vacationers were heading home from Egypt today 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 because of the security concerns 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.

Israel Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters on today that there was a “high probability” that the plane was brought down by a bomb.

Yaalon 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 on 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.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he does not expect flights to Egypt to resume any time soon, saying that “it will take time” to ensure safety of travelers in Egypt. He stopped short of giving a timeline for that.

Security concerns over Egyptian procedures have also gained attention in recent days. Security officials at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport have told The Associated Press that the facility has long had gaps in security, including a key baggage scanning device that often is not functioning and lax searches at an entry gate for food and fuel for the planes.