The Heat Is Online

Rare Snow Blankets Israeli, Palestinian Areas

Snowstorm shuts down Jerusalem for second day, Feb. 27, 2003

JERUSALEM - A rare snowstorm shut down Jerusalem for the second consecutive day yesterday and blanketed northern Israel and the West Bank, offering a welcome respite from 29 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Schools and public transport were not working in Jerusalem and neighbouring towns as snow continued to fall, reaching more than 30 cm (12 inches) in some places. Cars stood abandoned by the sides of some roads.

"There are still couples who will get married today...and we received 40 calls for assistance from women who went into labour to give birth," said Jerusalem deputy mayor Yigal Ahmedi.

"We know it won't last long, so it's no terrible thing for Jerusalem to have a holiday," he said.

At least one Israeli was injured when the roof of a storehouse collapsed in the city, medics said.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, most families remained confined at home as a deepening layer of snow filled the streets in the absence of snowploughs.

The snowstorm was brought by one of the coldest weather fronts for a decade, and also affected Lebanon, Jordan and Syria this week. It poured fresh rainwater into desert riverbeds in southern Israel and flooded parts of the Gaza Strip.

The previously water-starved Sea of Galilee in northern Israel has risen an estimated 16 cm (6 inches) in the last few days, cheering water officials who said this winter's heavy rainfall could help the lake recover from years of overdrawing.

Most businesses in Israel and the West Bank did not open. In the stillness of Jerusalem's Old City, Christian, Jewish and Muslim faithful shuffled through sleet, past palm trees with frosted fronds, to reach their places of worship.

The golden Dome of the Rock and silver-capped al-Aqsa Mosque, holy to Muslims, were decked in white, as was the Western Wall below, revered by Jews as the last edifice of their ancient temples.

A thaw was expected to begin yesterday.