While some countries have seen very little snow so far this winter, states such as Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Israel have been experiencing very cold conditions, with widespread snow. Temperatures have dropped so much that in Turkey they have been below the monthly average by almost 10C.
On Friday, the snow that has blanketed much of the Middle East turned Cairo white – with local media claiming it was Egypt’s capital’s first snowfall in more than 100 years. The city averages less than an inch of rain each year, and hundreds stopped their walk to work or school to snap pictures of the falling flakes, tweeting their delights.
Some on social media joked that the snowfall was the mystical work of Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, the military leader who is the focus of something of a cult of personality among his followers. Sisi led the coup five months ago against the highly unpopular but democratically elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.
In Jerusalem, nearly three feet of snow closed roads in and out of the city, which is set in high hills, and thousands in and around the city were left without power. Israeli soldiers and police rescued hundreds trapped in their cars by snow and ice. In the West Bank, the branches of olive trees groaned under the weight of snow, reports the LA Times.
Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv was shut earlier this morning and Egypt’s main ports on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea remained closed for the third straight day due to bad weather.
Nevertheless, Palestinian and Israeli children shaped clusters into snowmen across the divided capital, with boys shrieking with delight as they put the finishing touches to a frosty man outside the gold-domed Al Aqsa mosque.
“Last week, the chief rabbis asked Jews around the world to pray for rain in Israel since winter had begun with a dry spell,” Jewish online magazine Tablet reported. “Apparently, it worked.”
Snow, sleet and icy winds have covered Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, deepening the troubles of many war refugees, living in freezing tents. Many have melted snow on their stoves, their only source of drinking water. The situation is likely worse for multitudes of displaced people inside rebel-held and contested areas of Syria, where clashes and blockades by both sides in the country’s civil war have severely hampered delivery of aid.
The United Nations expressed concern for refugees caught in the cold, but many families are ineligible for help because they are not registered with the UN, according to Al Jazeera.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said it was working “round the clock” to hand out food parcels, mattresses and blankets in the worst-affected areas.
In Gaza, which was experiencing its first snow in a decade, more than 500 people were evacuated from their homes, according to Hamas spokesman Ihab Ghussein.
In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley – where there are an estimated one million Syrian refugees are crowded into 250 camps – relief agencies handed out warm clothing, blankets, bedding, heating equipment in refugee camps as snow fell relentlessly for the second day running, reports the Telegraph.