Snow blankets hit parts of Mideast

Snowstorms have hit parts of the Middle East, cutting off villages and leading to rare sights, such as children throwing snowballs at each other in the capital of this desert kingdom. "I love snow because I get off school," said seven-year-old Ameer Abbadi on Thursday as he stood near his snowman, which was beginning to melt.

Elsewhere in Amman, Jordan's capital, where temperatures dropped below zero during Wednesday's snowfall, children sledded on inflatable tubes and plastic bowls, and men in long Arab robes played in the snow with women wearing Islamic headscarves and black dresses.

In Syria, snow blanketed the hills around Damascus and high winds forced the closure of the Mediterranean ports of Latakia and Tartous. The town of Shat-ha in central Syria received a record amount of rain overnight, meteorologists reported Thursday. In southwestern Syria on the Golan Heights, near Israel, as much as 75 centimeters (2.5 feet) of snow fell on the village of Hadar.

In the northeast, floods inundated fields of wheat, barley and sugarbeat in Deir el-Zor. In neighboring Lebanon, winds and waves lashed the Mediterranean coast overnight. A three-hour hailstorm hit the capital Beirut and nearby towns and villages Wednesday, leading to torrents that disrupted traffic on many roads.

Snow fell on the mountains overlooking Beirut and most mountain roads were temporarily closed, including the Beirut-Damascus highway. There were no immediate reports of injuries in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, which are accustomed to mild winters. However, three years ago Jordan was hit by a blizzard that was described as the kingdom's worst storm since 1950.

In this week's storm, western and northern parts of Jordan received 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) of snow, which continued to fall until Thursday morning, said Jasser al-Rabadi, the head of Jordan's Meteorology Department. He told The Associated Press the storm came with winds of up to 40 mph (60 kph) that caused a blinding sandstorm before the snowfall. The winds let up early Thursday.

The Civil Defense Department said snow plows were working around the clock to reopen roads to northwestern villages. In Amman and northern towns, the snow closed schools, some government departments and businesses on Thursday, the last day of the work week for Jordan. It also caused the Jordanian parliament to postpone a session to debate the 2006 budget, reports the AP.

N.U.