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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 July, 2005, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Egypt's 'city of peace'
Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, hit by bomb attacks on Saturday, has grown in the space of a few decades from almost nothing to become both a booming holiday centre and a meeting-place for world leaders.

The resort's stunning location has turned it into the country's main tourist destinations, popular throughout Europe and the Middle East.

And it frequently becomes a focus for negotiations over the various crises in the region, prompting Egyptians to dub it the "city of peace".

Sharm, as it is usually known, had been considered relatively safe despite bombings last October at the other end of Sinai, near Egypt's northern border with Israel.

Summit venue

Situated on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, it boasts long stretches of natural beaches, clear water for diving and a dramatic landscape, with the Red Sea on one side and Mount Sinai on the other.

Diving off Sharm al-Sheikh
Divers describe Sharm as a deep-sea paradise

It has been described as a deep-sea paradise, with snorkellers and scuba-divers attracted by an abundance of corals, exotic marine plants and rare tropical fish.

Some say it is the world's best diving centre.

It is also noted for its sulphur springs, used as treatment for rheumatic and skin diseases.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has a winter residence there.

International conferences and summits are frequently held in Sharm al-Sheikh, and in recent months and years it has played a prominent role in the Middle East peace process.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon signed their landmark ceasefire agreement there in February.

Furious growth

Before the Israeli occupation of Sinai, which began in 1967, Sharm was barely more than a fishing village.

By the time the last Israeli troops left the peninsula in 1982 it was beginning to acquire its first hotels and develop a reputation as a diving centre.

But it has seen growth at a furious pace in recent years, with hotels, casinos, nightclubs and golf courses springing up along the coast.

While diving remains a large part of its identity, Sharm now relies mostly on revenue from general tourism.

The Naama Bay area, where two of the bombs exploded, has virtually become a resort in its own right.




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First footage of the aftermath of the explosions



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