UN Officials Worried Over Winter Storm’s Effect on Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

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A Syrian man removes the snow from his tent at a refugee camp in Deir Zannoun village, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, January 7, 2015. Credit: AP

DPA – UN officials on Thursday expressed concern for Syrian refugees residing in makeshift accommodation as a winter storm brought heavy snow and freezing temperatures to the Middle East.

Three Syrians, one of them an 8-year-old child, died after crossing into the country through the southern mountains, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported. One of the three was taken to hospital but died later, while a fourth member of the group was rescued by the Lebanese army.

Ron Redmond, a Beirut-based spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, described the refugees’ situation as “very dramatic.” Snow was 35 centimetres deep on the ground in the eastern Bekaa Valley, where about 400,000 Syrians are registered with the agency, officials said.

Redmond said he feared that “the worst is yet to come,” despite the fact that the UNHCR has been delivering winter supplies including thermal blankets, stoves and fuel vouchers since October.

The Lebanese meteorological service said high winds and thunderstorms were expected to die down on Thursday but temperatures would drop further, resulting in new snowfall.

Elsewhere, Israeli authorities closed the main roads to Jerusalem as a precaution.

The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command urged residents to stock up on water and food and to keep emergency lamps, phones, radios and generators on standby.

The winter storm was moving southwards towards the Palestinian Gaza Strip, where thousands are living in UN schools and damaged buildings after the destruction wrought by last summer’s conflict with Israel.

Some residents living in hastily repaired buildings have expressed fear that these will not hold up. Schools were closed and authorities instructed residents to stay at home as strong winds began to assail the coastal enclave.

With electricity rationed to eight hours a day, people without their own generators and fuel have been lighting fires in the streets to keep warm.

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