Holy Land hit by heaviest snowfall in decades

Last Updated: Saturday, December 14, 2013 - 23:44

Jerusalem: The heaviest snowfall in decades blocked roads across Israel and the Palestinian territories on Saturday, prompting Israeli authorities exceptionally to interrupt the Jewish sabbath to lay on relief trains.

In northern Israel, 45 towns and villages were cut off, police said, adding that they had rescued 200 snowbound motorists overnight.

Nationwide, 29,600 households were without electricity, nearly 13,000 of them in Jerusalem, the Israel Electric Corporation said.

The Jerusalem municipality managed to clear most roads of drifting snow but appealed to residents to stay at home as fallen trees posed a persistent traffic hazard.

Few ventured out, apart from observant Jews walking to synagogues.
The two main highways leading into the city, which climb to around 795 metres above sea level, remained closed in both directions for a third straight day.

With travel by road almost impossible, authorities laid on free relief trains to Tel Aviv and Haifa on the coast, interrupting the usual shutdown of public transport observed for the Jewish day of prayer and rest, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Low ground on the coast was spared the snow which enveloped Jerusalem and much of the West Bank, but torrential rains caused no less misery.

The Gaza Strip was "a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see," the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said.

"Four thousand UNRWA workers are battling the floods and have evacuated hundreds of families to UNRWA facilities," its spokesman Chris Gunness said.

"We have distributed 5,000 litres of fuel to local pumping stations, but the situation is dire and with the flood waters rising, the risk of water-borne disease can only increase," he said.

The territory`s Hamas rulers said that security forces were evacuating thousands of residents by boat.

Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing on its border with Gaza yesterday to deliver gas for domestic use and to fuel pumps to drain the floodwaters.

An official of the Hamas government said Israel would open the crossing again on Sunday to deliver fuel to the Palestinian territory`s sole power plant, which is currently not operational.

First Published: Saturday, December 14, 2013 - 23:44
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