Snowstorm in the Middle East threatens thousands of refugees | News | DW | 07.01.2015
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Snowstorm in the Middle East threatens thousands of refugees

A powerful winter storm has killed two refugees from Syria and brought misfortune to hundreds of thousands more living in camps in Lebanon. Many of the refugees have been trapped in their tents.

A Syrian man and a child under 10 died in the storm while crossing the mountainous border between Lebanon and Syria. Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures in Lebanon also blocked roads in the Bekaa Valley, a temporary home for more than 400,000 refugees from Syria. Snow in the eastern Bekaa Valley was around 35 centimeters deep, and many of the inhabitants of makeshift camps fear the collapse of their tents.

"I've been a refugee here for two years but this is the worst winter I've seen," said Mohammad al-Hussein, who lives in a camp with his wife and five children. "We feel humiliated."

Ron Redmond, a Beirut-based spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, described the refugees' situation as "very dramatic", and added that he feared "the worst is yet to come" despite the fact that the UNHCR has been delivering thermal blankets, stoves and other winter supplies since October.

"We are worried that tents will be flooded," Lauriane Gauny, program manager in the Bekaa Valley with the aid agency Oxfam told Reuters. "Refugees who don't have proper access to clean water or can't store drinking water will be in severe difficulties if we don't reach them in the next two days."

Israelis to stock up on food

In Syria, snow covered Damascus and Aleppo, silencing gunfire and grounding warplanes due to bad visibility.

Main roads to Jerusalem have been blocked by the Israeli authorities, as a safety measure. Also, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) advised residents to stock up on food and water and to keep emergency radios and generators ready.

The storm was moving south towards the Gaza Strip, where thousands of residents are still living in buildings damaged by the war with Israel last summer. The Palestinian enclave only has electricity for several hours a day.

"Even nature is angry. I hope God is not angry with us. I am not scared of the storm. I am frightened for the fate of those without shelters, whose houses Israel destroyed," said Gaza City resident Abu Ahmed, on his way to the grocery store.

The storms are expected to last several more days, causing further disruptions in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Israel, and other Middle Eastern countries.

dj/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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