Rare Snowstorm Hits the Middle East

Unusual cold and precipitation affected Jerusalem and surrounding areas

BY 

Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, two of the holiest sites for Jews and Muslims, are shown covered in snow in Jerusalem, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

A powerful winter storm left Jerusalem covered in snow on Friday, forcing police to block access to and from the city as a cold snap drove some Israelis to seek treatment from emergency medics.

Rare snow also fell in Cairo’s suburbs and the port city of Alexandria while a blanket of white covered St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.

In Syria’s contested northern city of Aleppo, soldiers and rebels took a break from fighting as a thick layer of snow blanketed deserted streets, cars and buildings and temperatures hovered around zero.

An anti-government activist said it has been quieter than it has been in more than a year, since the storm began late Tuesday.

“All the fighters are cold and hiding,” the activist who uses the pseudonym Abu Raed said.

He said residents in the city were relying on diesel or wood heaters although some had only blankets. Snow also fell in Damascus, but was quickly washed away by the rain.

The weather also delayed for the second day an airlift of urgently needed food aid from Erbil, Iraq, to Qamishli in northeast Syria for displaced families, according to United Nations food agency. As soon as the Qamishli airport opens, WFP will start airlifting over 400 tons of food on two aircraft with 12 return flights between Iraq and Syria, it said.

Humanitarian agencies opted for air route because roads leading to Syria’s northern Hassakeh province have not been safe for convoy due to fighting in the area, the agency added.

The cold weather was part of a storm, dubbed Alexa, which has been pounding much of Lebanon and parts of northern Syria since Wednesday, pushing temperatures below zero in mountainous areas and dumping snow and heavy rains. The snow has heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the more than 2 million Syrians who have fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

In Lebanon, snow fell on northern and eastern regions where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are staying, many of them in flimsy plastic tents.

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