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Heavy snowfall and gales sweep Middle East as winter storm hits

Jordan suspends COVID vaccinations due to severe weather; in Syria, authorities attempt to avert floods at crowded displaced persons camps

An old mobile artillery piece form Mideast wars sits covered with snow in a memorial site near the Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Golan Heights, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
An old mobile artillery piece form Mideast wars sits covered with snow in a memorial site near the Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Golan Heights, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

BEIRUT — Snow blanketed parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel on Wednesday, blocking roads, disrupting traffic and postponing vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 and even exams at some universities.

Large parts of Syria were covered, including the capital, Damascus, which is witnessing this winter’s first snowfall. Snow was as high as 15 centimeters (6 inches) in the mountains of Sweida province, according to the official state news agency SANA.

Roads in some provinces were blocked. In the central province of Hama, bulldozers shoveled snow to open roads while vehicles skidded on ice, further causing traffic disruption.

The University of Damascus called off midterm exams scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in all its branches around Syria because of the extreme weather conditions. The country’s ports remained open.

In the opposition-held northwestern Syria, civil defense teams have been building dirt mounds since Tuesday around displaced persons camps to prevent the rain from flooding the crowded areas. Nearly 3 million displaced people live in northwestern Syria, mostly in tents and temporary shelters. Heavy rainfall last month damaged over 190 displacement sites, destroying and damaging over 10,000 tents.

In neighboring Lebanon, Storm Joyce hit late Tuesday with gale force winds registering between 85 kilometers per hour (52 mph) and 100 kph (62 mph). The storm is expected to get stronger Thursday.

A man walks in the snow near the Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Breaking a warm spell, the storm brought heavy rainfall, a sharp drop in temperatures and the heaviest snow fall in Lebanon this year. Snow is expected to cover areas of altitudes as low as 400 meters high, according to the meteorological department. Nearly a dozen roads in eastern and northern Lebanon were closed to traffic because of the snow.

The Israeli Meteorological Service forecast heavy thunderstorms and cold temperatures across much of the country, with snowfall at higher altitudes beginning in the afternoon on Wednesday, including in Jerusalem. Heavy snowfall covered the Golan Heights near the border with Syria.

In Jordan, the COVID-19 vaccination drive was suspended due to severe weather conditions. Schools and universities also put off classes.

Osama al-Tarifi, director of the operating room of the Arabia Weather site, said snow has reached 20 centimeters (8 inches) in the mountains of Ajloun in northern Jordan, where snowfall has been nonstop since Tuesday night. Heavy snow is expected in the capital, Amman, on Wednesday.

Wind exceeded 100 kph (62 mph) in some areas in Jordan.

In Libya, snow blanketed the country’s northeast mountains as snowfall continued since Tuesday, covering forests and roads in some areas in the North African country.

Residents of the Jabal al-Akhdar area in the far northeast part of Libya took their children out for fun, some making snowmen and others starting snowball fights.

“I was surprised, actually, by the number of families who came here to take pictures to remember the snow,” said Ali al-Shairi, an amateur photographer from the eastern city of Bayda, which is known for recurrent snow in Libya but has not seen any for a couple of years.

In neighboring Egypt, heavy rain and windy weather prevailed on Wednesday and was expected to last into Thursday, the country’s meteorological agency said. Authorities in South Sinai province, which includes tourist hubs, canceled tourist activities, including safaris and cruises to weather the storm.

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