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Associated Press
Snow blankets the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, Jewish and Muslim holy sites, on Friday in Jerusalem.

Rare storm throws Mideast into disorder

– A powerful winter storm left Jerusalem covered in snow Friday, forcing police to block access to and from the city as a cold snap drove some Israelis to seek treatment from emergency medics.

In Egypt, rare snow fell in Cairo’s suburbs, the port city of Alexandria and Mount Sinai.

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 in near-zero temperatures.

An anti-government activist said that since the storm’s onset late Tuesday, it has been quieter there than in more than a year.

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

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.

The weather also delayed, for the second day, an airlift of urgently needed food aid for displaced families in Qamishli in northeast Syria, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program.

As soon as the Qamishli airport opens, WFP will start airlifting more than 400 tons of food from Erbil, Iraq.

Humanitarian agencies opted for the air route because fighting has made roads leading to northeast Syria unsafe for convoys.

The storm, dubbed Alexa, has been pounding much of Lebanon and parts of northern Syria since Wednesday, pushing temperatures below zero in mountainous areas and dumping snow and heavy rains.

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

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

A Lebanese security official said a 3-month-old Syrian baby died Friday in the northern town of Akroum. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the newborn had respiratory problems that may have been aggravated by the cold spell.

Syrian refugees struggled to keep tents in place and gathered sticks of wood from nearby fields to use 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.

Israelis were told over media and public broadcasts Friday not to enter or leave Jerusalem, and about 1,500 people were evacuated from stranded vehicles overnight, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Three emergency centers were set up, and medics treated 350 people for cold-related symptoms, he said.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he asked the military for assistance. Several highways and main roads around Jerusalem were closed.