Middle East

Russian flights return to Egypt's resorts six years after crash

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A Rossiya Airlines plane lands to a water cannon salute on the runway of the Sharm El-Sheikh Airport, after a decision to lift an almost six-year ban on direct flights following an airline crash which killed everyone on board in 2015, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, August 9, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Russian flights landed in the Egyptian resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada for the first time in nearly six years on Monday after Moscow had banned them following a deadly plane crash.

A Rossiya Airlines flight, welcomed by water canon salute in Sharm el-Sheikh, arrived from Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport with 517 tourists on board who were greeted with roses and flags. Another of the airline's flights arrived in Hurghada from Moscow carrying 518 passengers aboard, the civil aviation ministry said in a statement.

Russia stopped flights to Egypt after a Metrojet plane taking Russian holidaymakers back from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg broke up over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board. Flights had also been stopped to Cairo but were resumed in 2018.

Russia concluded the Metrojet plane was destroyed by a bomb. A group affiliated with Islamic State militants claimed responsibility.

"I'm happy to come here again," a Russian tourist said. "I want to come every year and we want to see you in Russia."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decree lifting the ban will be a boon for Egypt's year-round resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, which have attracted large numbers of Russians in the past.

"The Russian tourist was the No. 1 tourist in the city of Sharm El-Sheikh, God willing they will be again No. 1, but this will take time because those who are coming now are still checking the situation and security conditions as well as precautionary measures," said Khaled Fouda, governor of South Sinai.

Tourism is a key source of hard currency for Egypt, an important industry for employing young people that accounts for up to 15% of gross domestic product.

The sector was pummelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, with tourism revenues at about $4 billion in 2020, down 70% from $13 billion in 2019.

"I'm sure that many Russian tourists will arrive in Egypt in the weeks and months to come," said Russia's ambassador to Egypt, Georgiy Borisenko.

Reporting by Ahmed Fahmy in Sharm el-Sheikh and Mohamed Zaki in Cairo; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Giles Elgood and Bernadette Baum

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