Schools Closed, Rescue Personnel on Alert in Snowy Jerusalem

Commuters in capital urged to avoid driving due to slick roads; storms hit across entire Mideast.

Amid a strong storm that has dumped 15 centimeters of snow in Jerusalem, the municipal authorities in the capital announced school closures Wednesday morning. Snowfall has also been reported atop the mountains in the north and center of the country. In addition, Hebrew University lectures have also been canceled.

Israel Radio reported Wednesday morning that snow began accumulating in Safed, prompting schools to close early.

As a result of the severe weather conditions, the Israel Electric Company (IEC) reported that it expected electricity consumption in Israel to reach an all-time high Wednesday evening.

Consumption might reach maximal production capabilities, IEC officials warned, in which case disruptions and blackouts are likely to occur.

The IEC further requested that the public avoid using high wattage appliances between 5 and 8 P.M., in order to reduce the high expected levels of electricity consumption.

While Jerusalem's main highways and arteries are open to traffic, the interior roadways in the city's neighborhoods have yet to be cleared of snow. The municipality is discouraging commuters from driving due to the hazardous slick roads.

As the city began shoveling snow from the roads, the main public transportation lines gradually began operation Wednesday morning. Inter-city transportation to and from Jerusalem continues to run on schedule.

Jerusalem's Gan Sacher will host the traditional snowman competition at 3:00 P.M. Mayor Uri Lupolianski will serve as master of ceremonies.

Magen David Adom has placed ambulances in various spots across the city to aid in possible emergencies. Overnight, a police cruiser skidded off the icy road, lightly injuring a 17-year-old girl. At least two people have also been reported to suffer broken limbs after slipping on the pavement.

Schools in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc were also closed Wednesday, with the exception of the settlement of Kider. Limited studies are being held in schools in Tekoa and Nokdim. Roads are closed to traffic, and the regional council deployed snow-plowing vehicles in the early morning hours.

Schools in the southern Mt. Hebron region opened their doors Wednesday morning at 9:00 A.M. In the settlements of P'nei Hagi and Ma'ale Haver, where snow has accumulated on the ground, school were shut.

In the Binyamin council, schools in the following settlements have canceled lessons for the day: Ofra, Psagot, Kochav Ya'akov, Tel Tziyon, Ma'ale L'vona, Alei, Shiloh, and Beit El. The section of Highway 60 northbound stretching to Shiloh has been closed to traffic.

Meteorlogists predict that by Wednesday evening the snow will extend to lower areas as well, such as the Carmel and Nazareth hills.

Strong winds, ranging in force from 50 to 100 kilometers an hour, were also expected to continue Wednesday with unseasonably cold temperatures.

The bad weather was expected to continue through Thursday, but will start clearing up on Friday.

Blizzards swept through several other Middle East countries over a 12-hour period to Wednesday, closing down roads, causing power outages and halting activities at schools, ports and businesses.

Meteorologists said the harsh weather conditions were a result of a deep low pressure zone accompanied by a polar front that affected Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, as well as Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In Jordan, the heavy snowfall in Amman and other major cities forced Jordanian Prime Minister Nader Dahabi to declare Wednesday an official holiday.

Various government agencies went on maximum alert to be able to deal with any emergencies resulting from the bad weather conditions.