Heavy snows blanket Middle East region; cause ''delay'' in Palestinian-Israeli talks
Cities in much of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel were covered with blankets of snow Saturday and Sunday from a polar front centered over Turkey.
Forecasters in those Middle Eastern countries warned of snow storms lasting as long as 48 hours, closing hilly roads and isolating towns and villages that lie 1,500 feet or more above sea level.
The snow closed international roads connecting Syria and Lebanon. Authorities in Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian territories were warning citizens against venturing out in their vehicles.
In Lebanon, rain-floods and snow blizzards lashed at the country's cities for a second straight day Sunday, killing one motorist and trapping hundreds of cars in one meter thick snow on the Beirut-Damascus highway and the narrow roads of the Cedar mountains. The motorist was found frozen to death in his car near Shtaura.
Meanwhile, the motorcade of US ambassador Vincent Battle was rescued by the Lebanese army along with 130 cars carrying 300 occupants on the Besharri-Arz road in northern Lebanon, communiqués from the military command, police and civil defense reported.
Authorities warned even motorists with ice chains to stay away from roads to the ski resorts of Faraya, Laqloq and Arz and urged fishermen along the entire Mediterranean coastline to shield their boats from raging sea waves.
In many parts of the capital's southern suburb, roads were swept by rain floods that made traffic impossible. Many population centers in southern Beirut and around the northern port city of Tripoli were suffering from prolonged power outages.
In Jordan, meanwhile, the Department of Meteorology expected the prevailing weather conditions and the fall of hail and snow on high altitudes to continue throughout the day Sunday.
On Monday, however, weather conditions are expected to improve, but scattered snow and rain showers will persist, while temperature is expected to rise to 12 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, the icy roads also prompted Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to put off a round of talks scheduled for Sunday, aimed at preparing a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qurei. However, no new date was set.
Palestinian and Israeli sources said the meeting scheduled between both bureau chiefs of the Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers Sunday would not be held on schedule due to the "bad weather conditions" and snow storms currently passing through the region.
In the meantime, a blizzard on the Golan Heights prevented some 400 Druze on both sides of the Syrian-Israel border from staging an annual demonstration against Israel's 1981 annexation of part of the strategic plateau.
Snow and poor visibility forced the Syrian protesters to turn back around eight kilometers from the border.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, meanwhile, children threw snowballs while their parents queued to stock up on bread and heating fuel. In Nablus, three school buses skidded off roads, the 45 pupils were safely rescued by fire trucks, fire chief Yousef al-Jabi said.
Nablus motorist Nasser Abu Ghazeleh said the harsh weather paled into insignificance compared to Israeli military curfews and last week's magnitude-5 earthquake.
"We've had incursions that kept us cooped up at home, and then the earthquake," he said. "The snow is not a problem." (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)