Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:07 pm (KSA) 17:07 pm (GMT)

Rare snow blankets the Levant

Snow dusts the Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)
Snow dusts the Masjid Qubbat As-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

Blankets of snow brought the Jordanian capital Amman and other cities across the Middle East to a grinding halt on Wednesday as icy weather conditions gripped the mainly desert region.

Jordan

Jordan's government declared Wednesday a public holiday as snow blocked roads to Amman. Schools, universities and banks were shut in the desert kingdom.

Snow covered high-lying areas of western Amman, which is built on seven hills with the highest point at 1,100 meters (3,630 feet), trapping residents at home in many high-altitude areas.

Several centimeters of snow largely paralyzed the capital and officials urged people "to stay home and refrain from driving except for emergencies," the state-run Petra news agency reported.

Delays hit Amman international airport but it remained open despite heavy snow since the early morning, according to a Royal Jordanian spokesman.

Lebanon

Beirut was hit by torrential downpours and hailstorms on Wednesday, while heavy snow blocked roads in mountainous regions.

Residents of the region, more used to heat than freezing temperatures, complained about the cold, but weather forecasters welcomed both snow and rain to replenish almost empty dams and reservoirs.

In Beirut, one security official also welcomed the cold snap and rain saying it could at least discourage a repeat of deadly riots that shook the capital last weekend.

Palestinian Territories

The first snowfall of the year covered Occupied Jerusalem -- and its famed Dome of the Rock in the heart of the Old City -- with several centimeters (inches) of heavy snow and slush.

The streets of the Holy City were deserted during the normally hectic morning rush-hour, with few cars on the roads and isolated pedestrians making their way through the puddles of slush and snow on the sidewalks.

Schools and offices were closed, as snow ploughs cleared the streets. Most shops and schools also stayed closed in the nearby West Bank town of Ramallah.

Other areas

In Syria, snow fell overnight on the capital Damascus, taking temperatures seven degrees Celsius (up to 12 Fahreinheit) below seasonal norms. State television reported the closure of secondary roads in the south of the country.

In Iran, which is more accustomed to a wintery chill, snow fell on southern parts of the country earlier this week.

Meteorologists expected the cold front that hit Jordan and other regional countries to last at least through Thursday.

Jordan is one of the 10 most water impoverished countries in the world, and the country depends on rain and snow to meets its needs.

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