UK tourists stranded in Egypt as Kremlin defies warnings

The U.K.'s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said that flights from the U.K. to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt could be resumed by Friday, as security is stepped up at the airport amid safety concerns.

Around 20,000 British nationals are thought to be in the Egyptian coastal resort. Flights to and from the resort were suspended by the British government on Wednesday as a precaution after a Russian plane crash was thought to have been caused by terrorists.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said that it was "more likely than not" that a bomb downed the Russian jet and discussed the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Secretary Hammond said he hoped flights would resume on Friday, but it could take up to ten days before all the tourists can return to the U.K.

"The airlines are telling us that they expect, by tomorrow, to be in a position to start flying those British visitors back to the U.K. So we're spending today with the airlines, with the Egyptian authorities putting in place short-term emergency measures that will allow us to screen everything going on to those planes so we can be confident that they can fly back safely to the U.K."

Britain's Monarch Airlines said it would start repatriating its 3,000 passengers in Sharm on Friday. It will operate three rescue flights in addition to the usual two scheduled flights. EasyJet also confirmed it plans to resume its scheduled flights tomorrow and plans to operate six additional flights.


An airplane arrives in Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
Khlaed Desouki | AFP | Getty Images
An airplane arrives in Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

Meanwhile the Kremlin said any theories surrounding the crash of the Russian jet were "speculation" and added that all Russian planes would continue to fly to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.

The move to halt plane travel to and from Egypt came after U.K. and U.S. intelligence services suggested there was "significant intelligence" that a Russian jet that crashed in the Sinai desert last weekend may have been downed by a bomb rather than mechanical or structural failure.

The terrorist group calling itself "Islamic State," which operates mainly in Iraq and Syria but has allies in Egypt, claimed responsibility for the attack but Egypt dismissed those claims.

In addition, according to Russian investigators, no explosive residue has been found so far on the bodies of the 224 people who were on the Russian Airbus 321 when the airline was brought down shortly into its journey back to St Petersburg.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday that his country had made security checks at Sharm el-Sheikh 10 months ago in response to a request from the U.K. government, Reuters reported.

The U.K. is not alone in taking emergency precautions when it comes to Egypt. The Netherlands has also canceled flights to the resort until Sunday, Dow Jones reported. The Irish Aviation Authority also directed Irish airline operators "not to operate to/from Sharm el‐Sheikh Airport, Egypt or in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula airspace until further notice," according to a statement.

Other national airlines, such as Lufthansa and Air France also canceled flights over the Sinai peninsula until further notice.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld