Jerusalem Locked down by Fiercest Snowstorm in Years

The hilltop city of Jerusalem was paralyzed on Friday by its fiercest snowstorm in years, with its mayor calling out the army to help stranded motorists.

"We are battling a storm of rare ferocity," Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement as snow in the Holy City piled up to around 37 centimeters (15 inches), while outlying areas had much deeper drifts.

Main roads into the Holy City, which climb around 795 meters (2,600 feet) above sea level were closed and police appealed to drivers not to attempt the journey.

Temperatures in the city were predicted to reach a high of two degrees Celsius (35.6 Fahrenheit) during the day and drop below freezing at night, with the snowfall that started on Thursday continuing into Saturday.

Schools were closed for a second day Friday and most residents appeared to be heeding advice to stay at home.

"We have asked people living in Jerusalem not to drive in private cars unless they have four-wheel-drive because of the danger on icy streets," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

He said that by mid-morning police had been called to help about 1,500 drivers in the city and on the roads leading to it.

He said about 1,000 stranded travelers were given shelter at the Jerusalem International Conference Center on the city's western edge.

Young and old, ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular Israelis were camped on mattresses in the center, many of them glued to mobile devices as they watched for news of a change in the weather, an AFP photographer said.

Rosenfeld said that another 400-500 people had been taken to the Ofer military base on the northeastern road into Jerusalem.

"Only when the storm has eased can we start clearing roadways," Barkat said. "We are at the moment using all means to rescue those caught in the storm."

While lower-lying areas of Israel were spared the snow, heavy rain accompanied by high winds caused flooding in many places.

Public radio said that some international flights bound for Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, were diverted to Larnaca, in nearby Cyprus, but traffic was later returned to normal.

Ramallah and Bethlehem, Palestinian cities near Jerusalem, were also coated in snow and some lower-lying areas suffered flooding from heavy rain.

The Gaza Strip was lashed by torrential rain for a third day, and its Hamas rulers said on Friday that so far residents had been evacuated from 60 flooded homes since storms hit the coastal territory on Wednesday.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees, said its staff had been working "round the clock" to provide emergency services.

"In the West Bank, dozens of emergency response units have been delivering food parcels, mattresses and blankets," spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement.

"In Gaza, UNRWA has worked with local municipalities to evacuate dozens of flood victims, particularly in the northern areas which have seen severe flooding."

Source: Agence France Presse

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