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Winter storms pound Levant region

More than a dozen people die as Eastern Mediterranean countries face severe mix of snow, wind and cold temperatures.
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2013 21:05

Severe winter weather has killed at least 12 people across the Levant region this week, as low temperatures and precipitation sweep across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The UN appealed on Thursday for urgent aid to help thousands of Syrian refugees in a Jordanian camp who are battling mud, water and freezing cold in the worst winter storm in a decade.

The 7sq km Zaatari camp, home to more than 62,000 Syrian refugees, was almost entirely inundated by water on Wednesday.

Heavy wind and rains knocked down at least 500 tents, which normally house five people, as camp residents elsewhere dug shallow trenches around their tents in a vain attempt to keep the water out.

Meanwhile, cars were stranded in snow and children took advantage of school closures in Amman as wintery weather hit the Jordanian capital on Wednesday. Wintery conditions also forced official buildings to close.

Weather reports said the conditions were expected to continue into Thursday with a front carrying hail and snow.

For a few fleeting hours, residents of Syria's capital dropped their guns for snowballs and traded hatred for laughter.

A rare snowfall that covered Damascus in white on Wednesday sparked an overnight outbreak of playfulness among Syrians, who momentarily ignored their bloody civil war.

'No hot water'

Snow and rain across Lebanon have caused blackouts across the country, where electricity workers have also been on strike for several days.

Residents in several Beirut districts and in snow-capped mountain areas reported via social network sites that the blackout began on Wednesday night affecting electrical supply, heating and hot water boilers.

The storm that has been battering the region since the weekend has killed at least four people, including a man who froze to death as he fell asleep drunk in his car in the eastern Bekaa Valley and a baby swept away in a flash flood.

Schools have been shut nationwide since Tuesday.

Palestinians play in the snow next to a section of Israel's separation barrier in Qalandia [AP]

Jerusalem was transformed into a winter wonderland on Thursday after heavy overnight snowfall of at least 10cm turned the Holy City and much of the region white.

Three people died after their car was blown to the side of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway through central Israel.

During the height of the snowfall, buses were cancelled, but service gradually resumed as the storm tapered off.

With snow a rarity in the normally temperate Middle East, many resorted to using trays or bin bags to slide down some of the city's many steep hills.

A handful of visitors also turned up from Tel Aviv, where snow is almost unheard of, to join in the winter fun.

With less than two weeks until Israel's January 22 general election, campaign plans were put on hold for the day, and many electoral posters were almost obliterated by snow.

The winding streets of Jerusalem's Old City were almost completely deserted, with only a handful of shops open.

In Gaza, cold weather and heavy rain flooded several of the tunnels running between the territory and Egypt, and civil defence officials rescued two people trapped inside.

The storm has also taken its toll in the West Bank, where five people have been killed in weather-related incidents. The latest casualty to be named was Maher al-Bariya, a lawyer whose car was swept away in floods earlier this week.

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