From Syria to Gaza, Winter Storm Takes Its Toll

Thousands evacuated from Gaza homes; snow delays food aid for Syrian refugees.

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More than 4,000 people have been evacuated from flood-damaged homes in northern Gaza in what the United Nations has called "a disaster area," officials said on Saturday.

In Gaza, flooding has been so severe that access to many homes was by rowing boat and water is reported to be two meters (more than six feet) high in some places. Many people have been trapped inside inundated homes by rising waters.

The flooding is the result of four days of torrential rains.

"Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see," the United Nations Relief Works Agency that administers refugee camps in the Palestinian territory, said in a statement.

The Gaza health ministry said 100 people had suffered injuries in the severe weather, which damaged poorly built homes in the coastal territory, including from car accidents on flooded roads, and items falling from inundated buildings.

Chris Gunness, an UNRWA spokesman, said areas near a refugee camp in northern Gaza "have become a massive lake with two-meter-high waters engulfing homes and stranding thousands."

Gaza's Hamas government said 4,306 in all had been evacuated to schools and other centers used as makeshift shelters in the past four days.

Gaza's 1.8 million people have also been enduring around 12-hour blackouts daily since the lone power plant was switched off last month due to a fuel shortage.

Israel opened a main crossing with Gaza on Friday to allow in fuel supplies and four water pumps to help relieve flood damage. Gaza's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, urged the Arab League on Saturday to take steps to end the blockades of his territory, a statement from his office said.

In the West Bank, some 60 percent of the households were cut off from power on Friday due to the storm, Ma'an news agency reported. A Palestinian electrical company official said that efforts to repair power lines were delayed due to blocked roads.

Due to the heavy snowfall, the Palestinian police asked the residents of Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus to stay home. On Friday it was reported that five were injured in car accidents near Jenin.

In northern Lebanon, temperature in some places in has dropped to four degrees Celsius below zero, causing damage to agricultural lands. The roads were covered in ice, cutting residents from supply routes.

Snow fell on northern and eastern regions where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are staying, many of them in flimsy plastic tents.

The snow has heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the more than 2 million Syrians who have fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

Syrian refugees struggled to keep tents in place and were seen gathering sticks of wood from nearby fields to use them for heating. Families crammed into damp, muddy tents struggled to keep warm. In some cases, Syrian children came out of their tents to play with the snow.

The Hezbollah television Al-Manar reported that most of the roads in south Lebanon were blocked due to heavy snowfall, adding that villagers from the area worked long hours on Friday to keep them open.

A government official said more than 15 tons of salt was spread on main roads in the country's south in attempt to keep them clear and prevent any ice from forming.

In Syria's contested northern city of Aleppo, soldiers and rebels took a break from fighting as a thick layer of snow blanketed deserted streets, cars and buildings and temperatures hovered around zero.

An anti-government activist said it has been quieter than it has been in more than a year, since the storm began late Tuesday.

"All the fighters are cold and hiding," the activist who uses the pseudonym Abu Raed said.

He said residents in the city were relying on diesel or wood heaters although some had only blankets. Snow also fell in Damascus, but was quickly washed away by the rain.

Al Jazeera reported that at least ten children died in Syria, ten of them in refugee camps near Aleppo and one in Homs.

The weather also delayed an airlift of urgently needed food aid from Erbil, Iraq, to Qamishli in northeast Syria for displaced families, according to United Nations food agency. As soon as the Qamishli airport opens, WFP will start airlifting over 400 tons of food on two aircraft with 12 return flights between Iraq and Syria, it said.

Rare snow also fell in Cairo's suburbs and the port city of Alexandria while a blanket of white covered St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai.

In Cairo, where local media said the last snow storm was recorded more than 100 years ago. But this did not discouraged supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi to hold demonstration in the capital on Friday afternoon.

Al Ahram reported that temperature in southern Sinai dropped to between 0-3 degrees Celsius. In Alexandria, emergency services used fishing boats to help evacuate people from their homes due to flooding.

A man walks past debris from damaged buildings covered with snow in the besieged area in Homs December 11, 2013.Credit: Reuters
Police distribute bread by boats to people whose houses were flooded, Gaza, December 14, 2013.Credit: Reuters
A blanket of snow covers the northern West Bank city of Nablus, on December 14, 2013.Credit: AFP
People walk along a street during snow fall in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, December 13, 2013. Credit: Reuters
Palestinians children play with snow in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013
A Palestinian worshiper prays outside the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem following a snowstorm on December 13, 2013.
Jordanians take photos with a snowman wrapped with a traditional scarf in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 12, 2013.
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Palestinians children play with snow in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013Credit: AP
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A Palestinian worshiper prays outside the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem following a snowstorm on December 13, 2013.Credit: AFP
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Jordanians take photos with a snowman wrapped with a traditional scarf in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 12, 2013.Credit: AP
Snow in Middle East

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