Heavy winter storm descends on parts of Mideast

AP News
Posted: Feb 20, 2015 10:15 AM
Heavy winter storm descends on parts of Mideast

JERUSALEM (AP) — A heavy winter storm descended on parts of the Middle East on Friday, with snow forcing the closure of all roads leading in and out of Jerusalem and sprinkling Israel's desert with a rare layer of white.

Snow also fell in parts of the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria as a cold front swept through the region.

The snowstorm added to the burdens for Syrians displaced by war and living in tents in Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp. Some tents collapsed or suffered damage, and streets were turned into large puddles of muddy water. Children walked through the puddles and helped clear snow from the roofs of tents.

A Syrian refugee who identified herself as Umm Raed said conditions in the camp were difficult even before the winter storm hit.

"This is the third snowstorm, many people live in tents, their situation is very bad," she said. "Look at the situation of the children."

By contrast, the Holy Land's ancient sites were picture-postcard pretty. Snow capped the golden Dome of the Rock, a Muslim site in Jerusalem, dusted the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site, and blanketed the Nativity Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was born.

"It's a magic wonderland," said Miriam Leibowitz, a Jerusalem resident, as she strolled through a snow-filled city park with her family. "In the middle of Jerusalem we felt like we're in Switzerland."

Jerusalem municipality spokeswoman Brachie Sprung said 25 centimeters (10 inches) of snow were dumped on the city.

Twenty-year-old Nachy Faiman, a Jewish seminary student from Monsey, New York, said he was praying with a group of men at the Western Wall when the snow started. "It was awesome," he said.

In the early hours of the morning, Israeli police closed the main roads leading in and out of Jerusalem, and reopened them by midday.

Jerusalem's light rail tram service was shut down all day after two trams, making dry runs without passengers, were derailed overnight due to the snow, tram service spokesman Ozel Vatik said.

The Israeli desert towns of Dimona, Yerucham and Arad woke up to a layer of white while in Arad, residents proudly showed off a snowman. Israeli TV broadcast an unusual scene from the desert: camels in the snow.

The Syrian capital of Damascus and surrounding mountains were covered with snow, and in neighboring Lebanon, the snowstorm closed most mountain roads, isolating dozens of villages.

The Beirut-Damascus highway was closed since late Thursday and the Lebanese fire department urged people to stay at home.

In the Jordanian capital of Amman, snow paralyzed most streets, and in Gaza, heavy rains that started on Thursday have been forecast for the rest of the week.

In Egypt, strong winds and heavy rain shut down the Mediterranean ports of El-Arish and Damietta, where strong winds uprooted trees.

The Red Sea Port Authority said six of its ports shut down early Friday, including Ain Sukhna in the Suez area and the ports on the Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.


Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Omar Akoul in Zaatari, Jordan contributed to this report.