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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs