Heavy snowfall, gales as winter storm hits Middle East

A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
A young Syrian girl runs on a snow-covered street in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A young Syrian girl runs on a snow-covered street in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
Snow covers a street in the town of Slanfah, in Latakia province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (SANA via AP)
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Snow covers a street in the town of Slanfah, in Latakia province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (SANA via AP)
Palestinian women take picture amid snowfall in the West bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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Palestinian women take picture amid snowfall in the West bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
Aysegul Cepoglu, rear, and Ahmet Efe Isik slide down the hill at snow-blanketed Seymenler Park, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP)
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Aysegul Cepoglu, rear, and Ahmet Efe Isik slide down the hill at snow-blanketed Seymenler Park, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP)
A man walks along Baalbek's ancient ruins during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A man walks along Baalbek's ancient ruins during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
A couple walks along the historic site of Baalbek during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A couple walks along the historic site of Baalbek during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
People walk in the street during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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People walk in the street during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
Children try to catch snow flakes from a car window during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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Children try to catch snow flakes from a car window during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Heavy snowfall, gales as winter storm hits Middle East

A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
  • It snowed for the first time in years in Marjayoun in southern Lebanon, and in Bayda in northeast Libya

BEIRUT: Snow blanketed parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel on Wednesday, covering areas it has not reached in years, disrupting traffic and postponing vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 and even exams at some universities.
It snowed for the first time in years in Marjayoun in southern Lebanon, and in Bayda in northeast Libya.
Gale force winds knocked out electricity in vast parts of Lebanon, forcing many Lebanese, already used to power cuts, to rely on generators for longer hours. Rescuers pulled four motorists out of their snow-covered cars, the National News Agency said.
The first snow this winter in the Syrian capital, Damascus, did not prevent the Premier League soccer tournament from going ahead, as Army Sports Club and Al-Karamah faced off despite the snow that covered the pitch, the Syrian Al-Watan daily reported .
In the mountains of Syria’s Sweida province, snow was as high as 15 cm (6 inches), according to the official state news agency SANA. Roads in some provinces were blocked. In the central province of Hama, bulldozers shoveled snow to open roads while vehicles skidded on ice, causing traffic disruption.
The University of Damascus called off mid-term exams scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in all its branches around Syria because of the extreme weather conditions. The country’s ports remained open. Later, local authorities in the provinces of Sweida, Quneitra, Daraa and Tartous suspend school on Thursday due to the storm and heavy snowfall.
In the opposition-held northwestern Syria, civil defense teams have been building dirt mounds since Tuesday around camps for the displaced to prevent rain from flooding the crowded areas. Nearly 3 million displaced people live in northwestern Syria, mostly in tents and temporary shelters. Heavy rainfall last month damaged over 190 displacement sites, destroying and damaging over 10,000 tents.
In neighboring Lebanon, Storm Joyce hit late Tuesday with gale force winds registering between 85 km/h (52 miles/h) and 100 km/h (62 miles/h). The storm is expected to get stronger Thursday.
Breaking a warm spell, the storm brought heavy rainfall, a sharp drop in temperatures and the heaviest snow fall in Lebanon this year. Snow is expected to cover areas of altitudes as low as 400 meters, according to the meteorological department. Nearly a dozen roads in eastern and northern Lebanon were closed to traffic because of the snow. A beachside club and restaurant were submerged in water as waves nearly 4 meters (13 feet) high slammed onto the shore.
The Israeli Meteorological Service forecast heavy thunderstorms and cold temperatures across much of the country, with snowfall at higher altitudes expected later on Wednesday, including in Jerusalem. On Wednesday night, Israeli police closed the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem due to snow.
Heavy snowfall covered the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria.
In Jordan, the COVID-19 vaccination drive was suspended due to severe weather conditions. Schools and universities also put off classes. Jordan’s Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh announced that Thursday will be an official holiday for both the public and private sector due to the snow storm.
Osama Al-Tarifi, director of the operating room of the Arabia Weather site, said snow has reached 20 cm (8 inches) in the mountains of Ajloun in northern Jordan, where snowfall has been non-stop since Tuesday night. Heavy snow is expected in the capital, Amman, on Wednesday.
Wind exceeded 100 km/hour (62 miles/h) in some areas in Jordan.
In Libya, snow blanketed the country’s northeast mountains as snowfall continued since Tuesday, covering forests and roads in some areas in the North African country.
Residents of the Jabal Al-Akhdar area in the far northeast part of Libya took their children out for fun, some making snowmen and others starting snowball fights.
“I was surprised, actually, by the number of families who came here to take pictures to remember the snow,” said Ali Al-Shairi, an amateur photographer from the eastern city of Bayda, which is known for recurrent snow in Libya but has not seen any for a couple of years.
In neighboring Egypt, heavy rain and windy weather prevailed on Wednesday and was expected to last into Thursday, the country’s meteorological agency said. Authorities in South Sinai province, which includes touristic hubs, canceled touristic activities, including safaris and cruises to weather the storm.


TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.


Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break
  • A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums
  • Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19

TEHRAN: Iran reopened museums in Tehran and other cities Sunday after a more than year-long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums in Tehran and other large cities that are no longer red-coded, meaning the risk of contracting the virus was very high, reopened on Sunday,” the director of Iran’s museums, Mohammad-Reza Kargar, said.
“Tourists and visitors are welcome to return while observing (sanitary) measures.”
A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums, including 170 in the capital.
“We are absolutely delighted, and we think the people are too because they were fed up with staying home, and visiting museums improves their mood,” Kargar said in his tourism and heritage ministry office.
“We have safety protocols in place of course, and the number of visitors will be dependent on the space at our sites so the public stays safe and healthy.”
Kargar said only students, researchers and staff were allowed into museums during the past 14 months.
Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 that forced museums to close in May 2020.
On Sunday, the National Museum of Iran with its magnificent collection of treasures dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages was still deserted.
“We have to wait for the news to spread and schools to reopen for people to come back,” explained Firouzeh Sepidnameh, head of the museum’s pre-Islamic collections.
Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, has confirmed more than 5.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 117,000 deaths, according to figures issued Sunday by the health ministry.
Out of a population of 83 million, 29 million Iranians have received a first dose of vaccination and almost 14 million have been fully vaccinated against the virus.


UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians
Updated 19 September 2021

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: Men shot in public did not receive fair trial
  • The US Embassy to Yemen also condemned the “brutal” executions and called for such “barbarism” to end

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the Houthis on Sunday for executing nine civilians without a fair trial, one of whom was 15 at the time of detention.

Guterres’s spokesman said that the UN chief “deeply regrets” the Houthi executions and “strongly condemns these actions which are a result of judicial proceedings that do not appear to have fulfilled the requirements of fair trial and due process under international law.”

The nine men were shot in the back after they were forced to lie on the floor in public. They were charged with involvement in the killing of the Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018 by an Arab Coalition air strike.

The group were accused of putting SIM cards in the pockets of Al-Samad’s guards, helping the coalition locate him.

Al-Samad, then president of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, was visiting Hodeidah in April 2018 to incite residents to join the war when the coalition hit his convoy, killing him along with six others, and inflicting a heavy blow to the Houthis.

Guterres said he opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and reiterated that “international law sets stringent conditions for the application of the death penalty, including compliance with fair trial and due process standards as stipulated under international law.”

The UN chief called on all parties and authorities to adopt a moratorium on carrying out of the death penalty.

He also urged all everyine to cease violence in Yemen, and work with the UN to revive peace talks.

The US Embassy to Yemen also condemned the “brutal” executions and called for such “barbarism” to end.

Charge d'Affaires Cathy Westley said that “This outrageous action is another example of the Houthis indifference to basic human rights and follows only days after their attack on the commercial port of Mocha.”


UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year
Updated 19 September 2021

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year
  • The UAE government earlier introduced a booster shot drive for fully vaccinated individuals

DUBAI: Daily coronavirus cases in the UAE were at their lowest in over a year on Sunday, with the Gulf state’s high vaccination rate among its population ensuring community immunity against the highly transmissible disease.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention  (MoHAP) confirmed that 391 people had tested positive in the last 24 hours, the lowest since Aug. 30 last year with 362 cases, as well as two deaths due to COVID-19 complications.

The number of people who have tested positive in the UAE since the pandemic started stands at 732,690 with 2,075 fatalities.

MoHAP earlier said 91.93 percent of its almost 10 million population have received at least a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world – while 81.08 percent of residents and citizens have been fully vaccinated.

The UAE government earlier introduced a booster shot drive for individuals who were inoculated particularly with the Sinopharm vaccine to increase immunity against the virus.

A total 19,412,656 doses have been administered so far, for a vaccine distribution rate equivalent to 196.28 doses per 100 people.

The continued decline in COVID-19 numbers in the UAE has prompted Abu Dhabi to lift COVID-19 testing requirements for residents before they are allowed entry into the emirate.

The COVID-19 checkpoint at the Abu Dhabi-Dubai was removed just after midnight on Sunday.

The decision follows the announcement of a decreased COVID-19 infection rate in the emirate of 0.2 percent of total tests and the activation of the green pass system to enter some public places, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said in a statement.

The committee also approved home quarantine without the use of wristbands for international travellers and those in contact with positive cases.

COVID-19 positive individuals in the emirate are however still required to wear a wristband as part of monitoring to ensure compliance with precautionary measures.


Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated
Updated 19 September 2021

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated
  • Those who meet the requirement can apply for a permit online to attend Friday prayers

DUBAI: Oman will allow people who received two doses of the covid-19 vaccine to perform Friday prayers at mosques from next month, the sultanate said Sunday. 

The country’s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs that those who meet the requirement can apply for a permit online to attend Friday prayers. 

The ministry also said it will form a team of volunteers to verify that those entering the mosque have taken two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

The mosques and its annexes will be operated at 50 percent of their capacity while maintaining social distancing will remain a must. Attendees will also be required to being their own prayer rug and wear a mask.