News / Middle East

Winter Storm 'Alexa' Chills Middle East

Syrian refugees children play near a snowman in a camp for Syrians who fled their country’s civil war, in the Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, Dec. 12, 2013.
Syrian refugees children play near a snowman in a camp for Syrians who fled their country’s civil war, in the Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, Dec. 12, 2013.
Reuters
A powerful winter storm sweeping the eastern Mediterranean this week is causing mayhem across the region and inflicting extra misery on Syrians convulsed in civil war and refugees who have fled the fighting.
 
The storm, named Alexa, is expected to last until Saturday, bringing more snow, rain and freezing temperatures to large swaths of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
 
The bad weather, which began on Wednesday, is taking a disproportionate toll on the 2.2 million refugees living outside Syria and the 6.5 million people displaced within the country.
 
Biting cold and heavy rain beset Zaatari camp, which houses 80,000 of Jordan's more than half a million Syrian refugees.
 
Among them was Khalil Atma from Sanameen in southern Syria who was shivering with her two daughters in a flooded, unheated trailer. “We have come from one tragedy to another,” she said.
 
Aid agencies say they are working around the clock to evacuate refugees from flooded camps and distribute food, supplies and clothing, but cannot keep up with demand.
 
“These people need much more in terms of preparations for winter and organizations are doing their best, but winter conditions are harsh,” said Saba Mobaslat, country director of Save the Children International, which operates in Zaatari.
 
In Lebanon, more than 835,000 Syrians live in tents, unused buildings or with friends or family. UNICEF said needs were outpacing what it and its partners could provide.
 
In Turkey, authorities distributed extra blankets and winter clothes to many of the 206,000 Syrian refugees at camps along the border, said Mustafa Aydogdu, spokesman for the prime minister's disaster relief agency AFAD.
 
Refugees sheltering in 16 tent cities and six container camps were also given oil-generated heating lamps to reduce the risk of fire, Aydogdu said. Snow removal and firefighting teams have been established at the camps.
 
  • Two Palestinian women play with snow outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Dec. 12, 2013.
  • An ultra-Orthodox Jew takes a photograph of the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem, Dec. 12, 2013.
  • The Western Wall is seen during a snow storm in Jerusalem, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • Dark clouds over Gaza City, Dec. 13, 2013. Early snow surprised many Israelis and Palestinians as a blustery storm, dubbed Alexa, brought gusty winds, torrential rains and heavy snowfall to parts of the Middle East.
  • People play with snow after a heavy snowstorm in Amman, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • People play in the snow in Damascus as a blustery storm, dubbed Alexa, brought gusty winds, torrential rains and heavy snowfall to most parts of Syria and the entire Middle East, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • A Palestinian woman walks by a snowman in the West Bank town of Nablus, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • An Indonesian soldier from the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon is seen during a snow fall in the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • Vehicles travel in the rain during the storm Alexa, Cairo, Dec. 13, 2013.

Fighting in the snow
 
Despite the weather, shelling and clashes raged on this week in Syria, where rebels have been fighting for more than 2-1/2 years to bring down President Bashar al-Assad.
 
Images on Twitter showed rebels marching through the snow carrying automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
 
Photographs from the central Syrian city of Homs revealed blocks of houses devastated by two years of street fighting and air strikes, and now covered in a thick layer of snow.
 
Al Arabiya television on Friday broadcast an image of a child said to have died from exposure in Syria. Reuters could not independently verify the report.
 
The World Food Program said it was distributing 10,000 liters of fuel for cooking and heating to internally displaced families living in 10 shelters in Damascus.
 
WFP Syria Director Matthew Hollingworth said many Syrians had fled without enough warm clothes or blankets. “Syria is always quite cold in winter but it is quite different when you face a fierce winter in a shelter with very limited resources rather than in the comfort of your own home,” he said.
 
The snow also prevented the start of a United Nations airlift to bring relief supplies from Iraq to tens of thousands of people in Syria's remote northeastern Kurdish areas.
 
A snowstorm of rare intensity blanketed the Jerusalem area and parts of the occupied West Bank, choking off the city and stranding hundreds in vehicles on impassable roads.
 
Israeli authorities said at least 50 cm (20 inches) of snow had fallen since Thursday and more was forecast through the day.
 
“In my 54 years I don't remember a sight like this, such an amount I cannot recall,” said Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem.
 
The Israeli military helped police rescue hundreds of people stranded in vehicles on highways near Jerusalem. More than 500 were given makeshift shelter in a city convention hall.
 
Highways into the city were shut, with plows impeded by falling snow and freezing cold. Broken tree branches toppled electricity wires leaving tens of thousands without power, Israeli media said. Residents were told to stay at home.
 
Winter diplomacy
 
Despite the storm, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday to try to spur lagging peace talks. He had met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah the day before.
 
The storm forced Kerry to cut short his session with Abbas to return to Israel before the roads and border-crossings shut.
 
In the blinding snow, his convoy's path was cleared only by a Palestinian front-end loader whose driver stuck his head out the door to see all the way from Ramallah to the Israeli border where Israeli police escorted Kerry's party back to the hotel.
 
The usually 45-minute trip took more than two hours.
 
An unusual blanket of snow surprised residents in the Gaza Strip who stopped to take pictures of snowy scenes. But the Palestinian territory was also hit by heavy rain that flooded roads and made them impassable. Emergency workers used fishing boats to evacuate 700 people from their homes and provide food, blankets and torches to hundreds of others caught in high water.
 
Gaza's Hamas government said all its resources and manpower were available to aid rescue operations, including its armed wing usually charged with fighting Israel.
 
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas administration, called for fuel to be allowed to enter Gaza. “Gaza survived two wars (against Israel) and it will walk out of this,” he said wearing a heavy coat and the yellow jumper of emergency workers as he toured the affected areas overnight.
 
Fuel shortages in recent weeks have caused Gaza's sole power plant to shut its generators, leaving residents with 12-hour blackouts and disrupting hospitals, sewage treatment facilities and private businesses.
 
Two days of snowfall in Turkey forced the cancelation of 240 international and domestic flights on Thursday at airports across the country with delays spanning several hours, flag carrier Turkish Airlines said on its website.
 
The Bosphorus Strait, through which some 10,000 vessels and 150 million tons of oil products pass each year, reopened on Thursday after high winds, strong currents and poor visibility prompted maritime officials to bar tankers the previous day.
 
Five tankers were waiting to enter at both ends of the strait, shipping agent GAC said.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid