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

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

Euro falls after European Central Bank announces a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program More

Saudi King’s Death Clears Succession Route

Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef is Saudi Arabia's New Crown Prince-in-waiting More

Cloud Hangs Over US Counterterrorism Efforts in Yemen

Sources say resignations of Yemen's president, government has left US anti-terror operations 'paralyzed,' yet an American military 'footprint' remains More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid