12/15/2017 01:12 EST | Updated 12/15/2017 01:20 EST

Russia to resume flights to Egypt, halted after 2015 bombing

MOSCOW — Russia is to resume flights between Moscow and the Egyptian capital of Cairo in February after more than a two-year hiatus, Russian transportation minister said on Friday.

Moscow suspended flights to Egypt after an Islamic State bomb brought down a Russian airliner over Sinai in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board.

The attack decimated Egypt's vital tourism industry. Egyptian authorities have since spent millions of dollars to upgrade security at its airports, hoping to get Moscow to change its mind.

In comments on Russian state television, Transportation Minister Maxim Sokolov said Friday that Egypt and Russia have yet to sign a security protocol but that direct flights should resume in early February.

Russia, however, is not yet talking about resuming charter flights to Egyptian resorts on the Red Sea, once a popular destination for Russian tourists, Sokolov said, adding that this would be "the next stage" of negotiations.

President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Cairo on Monday said the deal on the resumption of flights could be signed "in the nearest time" and praised Egypt's efforts to boost security at its airports.

In the wake of the IS bombing, Britain, another major source of visitors to Egypt, suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort in Sinai from which the doomed Russian airliner took off.

Putin's visit to Egypt was part of the Russian president's blitz day-trip to the region that kicked off with a visit to a Russian air base in Syria, then to Cairo and concluded with a stop in Turkey. It was his second visit to Egypt in as many years, and Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi appeared keen to cement their countries' ties, which have deepened in recent years as Moscow has expanded its reach across the region.

El-Sissi, who has visited Russia twice since taking office in 2014, has signed deals to buy billions of dollars' worth of Russian weapons, including fighter jets and assault helicopters. Last month, Russia approved a draft agreement with Egypt to allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases.

On Thursday, Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi headed to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart to finalize the agreement on the resumption of flights.


Associated Press writer Menna Zaki in Cairo contributed to this report.