Wintry weather strikes Middle East, bringing cold, sandstorm

AP News
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Posted: Jan 06, 2015 1:28 PM
Wintry weather strikes Middle East, bringing cold, sandstorm

A powerful winter storm began striking across the Middle East on Tuesday, bringing a bitter cold to Syrian refugees huddled in Lebanon and blanketing Cairo in a sandstorm.

In Lebanon, officials said they expected a snowstorm Tuesday night in the Bekaa Valley, where hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria's civil war live, many in tents.

Outside some makeshift tents near the Lebanese town of Anjar, some refugees collected wood or cleaned their wood-burning stoves in anticipation of the storm, while others placed sandbags at the base of their tents to help anchor the shelters and protect against flooding.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it would "keep vulnerable refugees as warm as we can" in Jordan, which also hosts many who fled the war in Syria.

A sandstorm engulfed Egypt's capital Cairo on Tuesday afternoon, blocking out the sun as rush-hour traffic began.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said major roads leading in and out of the city would be closed to prevent a repeat of the chaos that occurred during a 2013 snowstorm, when hundreds of cars were stranded on highways near Jerusalem's entrance. As temperatures began to fall, anxious Israelis flooded supermarkets, stocking up on food.

Strong waves from the Mediterranean Sea lashed Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Syria's state news agency SANA reported that the country's two main ports in Tartous and Latakia had been closed as winds of up to 74 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour) caused waves more than 5 meters (15 feet) high.

In the Lebanese capital Beirut residents walked along the seaside promenade to snap photographs of waves slamming into the seawall and sending frothy water flowing across the pavement. Wind and rain caused delays at the city's airport Tuesday night.