File Photo: Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (4th R) listen to Egyptian team from police and army at the remines of a plane crash at the desert in central Sinai 1 November (Reuters)
Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said on Monday that a preliminary investigative report on the October crash of a Russian flight in Sinai indicates that the plane was not downed by a bomb, a statement that Russia was quick to dismiss.
"The technical investigative committee has so far not found any evidence indicating criminal or terrorist activity in the downing of the plane," head of the investigative committee, Ayman El-Muqqadam, said in a statement sent to Ahram Online by Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry.
El-Muqqadam added that the investigative committee is "continuing its work," saying that the preliminary conclusion will be verified with more detailed information in later phases of the probe.
The Egyptian statement added that a copy of the report has been sent to international experts officially taking part in the probe, including experts from Russia, Ireland and France, as well as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Hours following the release of the aviation ministry statement, Moscow rejected the findings, citing the conclusion reached by Russian experts investigating the crash.
“I can only remind you that the report of our experts from the corresponding special services concluded that this was a terrorist act,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Sputnik.
Last month, Russia asserted for the first time that a homemade bomb containing up to 1 kilogram of TNT blew apart the Airbus A321, which took off from the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh en route to Russia's St Petersburg.
Russian security chief Alexander Bortnikov said "we can say unequivocally that this was a terrorist attack," prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to vow to hunt down and punish the perpetrators "in any part of the world."
Since the 31 October crash, which claimed the lives of all 224 people on board the flight when it crashed in midair over central Sinai, Egypt has insisted that its full investigation must be completed to definitively determine the cause of crash.
The Egyptian government has dismissed statements made by the US and Britain which back the Russian assertion of a terrorist attack, saying that only an official probe can reach such a conclusion.
Quashing theories that the bomb was planted on the plane in Turkey, El-Muqqadam affirmed that black box recordings of the passenger jet indicated that the aircraft's route for five days prior to the crash remained confined to flights between Egyptian and Russian airports only.
Several countries have suspended flights to Sharm El-Sheikh or Egypt altogether over security fears, prompting concerns that the country's already troubled tourism industry could face a huge drop.
Russia has also banned incoming flights by Egypt's state-owned airline EgyptAir over concerns regarding the company's security measures on the back of the disaster.