It’s a festive scene that’s adorned countless Christmas cards… and, for once, the Holy Land actually became a snow covered winter scene.
The ancient city of Jerusalem, which normally basks in fierce heat, was dusted with a light covering of snow during a freak blizzard.
And snow fell on the streets of Egypt for the first time in 112 years as one of the worst winter storms to hit the Middle East in living memory set in.
The rare sight of pristine white precipitation greeted stunned residents of Cairo this morning who took to social media to express their shock at the unsettling weather in the usually sweltering capital.
The blizzard, which has been named Alexa, forced Jerusalem into lockdown today after more than 50cm of snow was dumped on the region.
The unusual weather system brought travel chaos and disruption to much of the region.
People had to abandon their cars and seek emergency shelter as the snowstorm brought transport to a standstill.
Police set up roadblocks on routes in and out of the ancient city.
Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv was shut earlier this morning and Egypt’s main ports on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea remained closed for the third straight day due to bad weather.
Israelis were told over media and public broadcasts today not to enter or leave Jerusalem and some 1,500 people were evacuated from stranded vehicles overnight, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Three emergency centers were set up and medics treated 350 people for cold-related symptoms, Rosenfeld said. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he asked the military for assistance.
Rare snow also fell in Cairo’s suburbs, the port city of Alexandria and a blanket of white covered St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai.
The cold weather was part of a storm, dubbed Alexa, which has been pounding much of Lebanon and parts of northern Syria since Wednesday, pushing temperatures below zero and dumping snow and heavy rains.
The snow has heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the more than two million Syrians who have fled the civil war raging in their homeland.
The weather even featured in talks between visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he was briefed on the emergency measures.
Kerry, a former Massachusetts senator, said the snow made him feel ‘at home’.
‘I have heard of making guests welcome and feeling at home. This is about as far as I’ve ever seen anything go… giving me a New England snowstorm,’ Kerry said as he viewed a snow-covered Old City of Jerusalem with Netanyahu.
In the West Bank and Gaza, U.N. relief teams offered emergency services to the worst-hit communities.
In Gaza, which was experiencing its first snow in a decade, more than 500 people were evacuated from their homes, according to Hamas spokesman Ihab Ghussein.
Egypt’s state MENA news agency said the country’s two Mediterranean ports near the city of Alexandria and two ports on the Red Sea remained closed for the third day Friday.
The report quoted the head of the Alexandria port authority, Adel Yassin Hammad, as saying the decision was taken to avoid possible accidents in the ports.
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