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

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    Carry-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society, so here's the deal with pizza, Chinese food and what racism has to do with taking food to go

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora