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Rare Snowstorm Paralyzes Mideast


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Jerusalem, Jan. 28 (AP by Mark Lavie)–A city in Israel’s Negev Desert woke up blanketed in snow today and Muslim clerics in Jordan told worshippers to say their prayers at home after a rare snowstorm dumped up to 3 feet of snow over the region.

In Jerusalem, which was covered in at least 15 inches of snow, a house in the Arab eastern sector collapsed, killing one Palestinian man and trapping his grandfather in the wreckage. Rescuers managed to extract the grandfather, who had suffered minor injuries, Israel radio reported.

In neighboring Jordan, the storm dumped two feet of snow on the capital Amman and nearly three feet in other regions, including the usually arid south and east.

With motorists stranded and many power lines cut, Civil Defense officials warned Jordanians to stay home, and Religious Ministry official Hamdi Murad asked Muslims to forgo visiting the mosque for Friday prayers.

“God will forgive you if you don’t make it to prayers today,” Murad told Jordan radio, “because God told Muslims not to imperil their lives in situations that do not ensure public safety.”

The Jerusalem municipality deployed 60 tractors to clear its main streets, but buses were not running. The city’s central bus station was covered with snow, and buses parked there rested under thick blankets of white.

Elementary schools had been scheduled to reopen after a 12-day teachers strike, but were kept closed for another day when the snowstorm hit.

With temperatures just below freezing, the wet snow stuck to trees, creating beautiful but dangerous scenes. Falling trees knocked down electricity lines in some places.

Residents of Beer Sheba, the largest city in the Negev Desert, rubbed their eyes in disbelief this morning when they awoke to find their city blanketed in white. The last snowstorm there was about 50 years ago, residents said. A reporter for Israel radio said the snow in his Beer Sheba front yard was 4 inches deep.

Heavy snow fell over the hills of the West Bank, stranding hundreds of cars on the road south from Jerusalem to Hebron. The army sent heavy vehicles to extract Palestinian and Israeli drivers.

As the snow continued to fall, road graders cleared the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. Jerusalem is about 2,600 feet above sea level. Tel Aviv, 45 miles away, is on the Mediterranean seashore.

The storm dumped heavy rain on Tel Aviv and other low-lying places. Dozens of families were evacuated from flooded houses, and streets were blocked by rivers of water as drainage systems overloaded.

Ski operators at Mount Hermon, Israel’s only ski resort, were happy about the storm. The mountain at the northern edge of the Golan Heights was closed last year, when almost no snow fell. But operators said 23 feet of snow were already on the ground at the upper level.

In Jordan, heavy snowfall blocked most streets in Amman and isolated remote villages in the north and center of the country.

The blizzard, which follows three years of drought that battered Jordan and other countries in the Middle East, sent many Jordanians to the streets to build snowmen, skate on icy roads and sidewalks and throw snowballs from rooftops at pedestrians.

“I called him Rabee Jr.,” said fifth-grader Rabee Khalidi of his snowman. “I hope Rabee will keep me company for some time.”

Weatherman Saleh Khattar said he expected the snowfall to abate Saturday afternoon.

Civil Defense Department spokesman Bassam al-Nimr said dozens of people were stranded on highways shrouded in fog and covered with ice and snow. Bulldozers were clearing the roads, and no serious accidents were reported.

The Jordan Electricity Co. said some areas in Amman’s suburbs remained without power overnight because of material damage caused by the storm.

Some airline flights were unable to land in Amman and were diverted to the southern Red Sea resort of Aqaba, civil aviation officials said. Copyright © 2000 The Asssociated Press